Introduction

Immigration to the US

The notion that the US is a nation of immigrants is something of an illusion, as only 13 per cent of US residents are foreign-born, roughly the same as Germany and Sweden, but less than Canada, Switzerland and Australia.

Introduction

In 2012, there were 40 million foreign-born people in the USA, which was an increase of around 9 million compared to data from 2000.

However, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 there have been several changes to visa and immigration policies (e.g. new countries have been added to the list of high-risk countries regarding terrorism), and in some categories visa applications have decreased as requirements have been tightened. Nevertheless, it’s estimated that nearly nine million visas were issued in 2012.

Requirements for entering the US

With the exception of certain visitors, all non-resident foreigners wishing to enter the US require a visa, even those just in transit on their way to another country. The US issues a bewildering range of visas which are broadly divided into immigrant (permanent resident) and non-immigrant (temporary resident) visas. An immigrant visa gives you the right to travel to the US to live and work there (and change jobs freely) on a permanent basis, with the possibility of qualifying for US citizenship after five years’ residence. Getting a work visa for the US is complicated and requires a sponsor who has offered employment - the only other alternative is enter yourself in the lottery for a green card and cross your fingers.

A non-immigrant visa allows you to travel to the US on a temporary basis, e.g. from six months to five years, and in certain cases to accept employment. Work permits aren’t issued, as the appropriate visa serves the same purpose. A visa does not give you the right to enter the US, only to travel there for a specified purpose. This is because visas are issued by the Consular section of the Department of State, which only has the authority to pre-approve foreigners for travel. The Consular services issue 4 million visas annually.

For many years, the US immigration and naturalisation laws were enforced by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) of the United States Department of Justice. After the terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to co-ordinate the various services connected with national security.

On 1st March 2003, the old INS became three new departments under the DHS: the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), which handles the various immigration statuses and permits once an immigrant has been admitted to the country, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), responsible for immigration-related investigations, detentions, deportation and the new registration system for students and exchange visitors (SEVIS), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which patrols the borders and entry points (and decides whether or not to admit arriving foreigners with a visa).

Like the old INS, the USCIS maintains four regional service centres and more than 60 local offices throughout the US. Once admitted into the country by the CBP, it’s now the job of the USCIS and the ICE to register and track all the various foreigners, make sure they’re complying with the terms of their visas, and (especially) to make sure they go back home or at least leave the US when they’re supposed to!

No guarantee of entry

Possession of a visa isn’t a guarantee of entry into the US. Entry into the country is strictly controlled and anyone who doesn’t comply with immigration requirements (including being able to prove that they’re indeed in compliance with the terms of their visa), can be fined, jailed, or deported. In general, the US attempts to restrict entry of undesirables, i.e. anyone who’s a threat to the health, welfare or security of the US.

Only holders of visas permitting employment may work in the US. Holders of other categories of visas may not accept employment, even informal work in a household as a nanny, au pair or mother’s helper. Your passport must usually be valid for a minimum of six months after the termination of your planned stay. If your passport is close to its expiry date, you should renew it before travelling to the US.

Further information is available on State Department websites (www.state.gov  and http://travel.state.gov ) and on the USCIS website .

Immigration is a complex subject and the information contained in this chapter is subject to change, and is intended as a general guide only (particularly quotas). You shouldn’t base any decisions or actions on the information contained herein without first confirming it with an official and reliable source, such as an American Embassy.

In 2012, there were 40 million foreign-born people in the USA, which was an increase of around 9 million compared to data from 2000.

However, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 there have been several changes to visa and immigration policies (e.g. new countries have been added to the list of high-risk countries regarding terrorism), and in some categories visa applications have decreased as requirements have been tightened. Nevertheless, it’s estimated that nearly nine million visas were issued in 2012.

Requirements for entering the US

With the exception of certain visitors, all non-resident foreigners wishing to enter the US require a visa, even those just in transit on their way to another country. The US issues a bewildering range of visas which are broadly divided into immigrant (permanent resident) and non-immigrant (temporary resident) visas. An immigrant visa gives you the right to travel to the US to live and work there (and change jobs freely) on a permanent basis, with the possibility of qualifying for US citizenship after five years’ residence. Getting a work visa for the US is complicated and requires a sponsor who has offered employment - the only other alternative is enter yourself in the lottery for a green card and cross your fingers.

A non-immigrant visa allows you to travel to the US on a temporary basis, e.g. from six months to five years, and in certain cases to accept employment. Work permits aren’t issued, as the appropriate visa serves the same purpose. A visa does not give you the right to enter the US, only to travel there for a specified purpose. This is because visas are issued by the Consular section of the Department of State, which only has the authority to pre-approve foreigners for travel. The Consular services issue 4 million visas annually.

For many years, the US immigration and naturalisation laws were enforced by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) of the United States Department of Justice. After the terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to co-ordinate the various services connected with national security.

On 1st March 2003, the old INS became three new departments under the DHS: the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), which handles the various immigration statuses and permits once an immigrant has been admitted to the country, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), responsible for immigration-related investigations, detentions, deportation and the new registration system for students and exchange visitors (SEVIS), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which patrols the borders and entry points (and decides whether or not to admit arriving foreigners with a visa).

Like the old INS, the USCIS maintains four regional service centres and more than 60 local offices throughout the US. Once admitted into the country by the CBP, it’s now the job of the USCIS and the ICE to register and track all the various foreigners, make sure they’re complying with the terms of their visas, and (especially) to make sure they go back home or at least leave the US when they’re supposed to!

No guarantee of entry

Possession of a visa isn’t a guarantee of entry into the US. Entry into the country is strictly controlled and anyone who doesn’t comply with immigration requirements (including being able to prove that they’re indeed in compliance with the terms of their visa), can be fined, jailed, or deported. In general, the US attempts to restrict entry of undesirables, i.e. anyone who’s a threat to the health, welfare or security of the US.

Only holders of visas permitting employment may work in the US. Holders of other categories of visas may not accept employment, even informal work in a household as a nanny, au pair or mother’s helper. Your passport must usually be valid for a minimum of six months after the termination of your planned stay. If your passport is close to its expiry date, you should renew it before travelling to the US.

Further information is available on State Department websites (www.state.gov  and http://travel.state.gov ) and on the USCIS website .

Immigration is a complex subject and the information contained in this chapter is subject to change, and is intended as a general guide only (particularly quotas). You shouldn’t base any decisions or actions on the information contained herein without first confirming it with an official and reliable source, such as an American Embassy.

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