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Understanding Immigration and How to Become a U.S. Citizen

It amazes me how people in the United States seem to not understand immigration. Considering this country was built on immigration, at the detriment of the local populations, there should be more understanding towards those who cross oceans (and arbitrary borders) to try their luck in the land of opportunity. America has spent decades propagating the vision of being the land of the free and the home of the brave. It markets its economy to look like a utopia where anyone can get rich with just a little luck and some hard work. Yet when immigrants flock to this country, whether legally or illegally, there is a major outcry against them.



I would like to address this group and present a view of the American immigration system from the other side of the border. I am a first generation immigrant from Russia, but I moved here when I was ten and my parents did all the leg work. My dad built a business from the ashes of the Soviet Union and was finally able to afford the fees associated with moving a family across the Atlantic. I was involved with helping my mom study for the citizenship test years later and took the oath with my sister when we got our passports. We were lucky. My dad made some great contacts on his first trip in 1991 who helped him through the process. Yet many people, especially those who are coming over from the South, do not have such luck on their side.

So Why Do People Immigrate?

This is the first question that we should ask when discussing immigration policy.

Since the beginning of time humans have moved from places where resources and opportunities are scarce to places where resources and opportunities are abundant.

In a country where the government is oppressive and continues to pass bad economic policies that keep the majority of people in poverty, those people are eventually going to seek out greener pastures. Some bad economic policies can include subsidies, high taxes, protection for special interest groups, manipulation of markets, and the creation and sustainability of a mafia industry. These policies create expensive barriers to starting a business for everyone who is not in the government’s circle of corruption. One of the reasons that America used to have such a great reputation abroad was because of the American Dream. What the American Dream offered was an opportunity to take your limited capital and turn it into a prosperous business. Government regulations stifle that dream because poor people cannot enter the market and compete with the monopolies that bribe the government to create laws for their own benefit. A monopoly benefits by eliminating competition. This is what creates crony capitalism, also known as corporatism.

So you, as a poor person living in a country where you have absolutely no upward mobility, are going to try your damn hardest to find solutions and provide a better life for your family. This is a natural human instinct – survival and the pursuit of happiness.

Now, it’s important to remember that these people are poor and they are poor because of their government. That is why they want to leave.



What It Takes to Immigrate

We can all agree that to survive (and prosper) in the world economy you need a job. And we remember that the people who are trying to move have very limited capital to work with. As a non-citizen of America you will need to have a job once you make the move. To get a job you need a work visa. A work visa requires proper documents, photos, and a $190 application fee. If approved, you also go in for an interview at the nearest U.S. Embassy in your country. This application fee does not guarantee that you will get a visa. There are visas for temporary or seasonal agriculture and non-agriculture jobs; specialty occupation or education visas; athlete, artist and entertainer visas, and most require for your company to sponsor you. Basically, to get a job you need a work visa and to get a work visa you need a job. The government is a master of catch 22’s.

A visa costs money every single time you apply even if your visa application is denied. My own aunt and cousin were denied visas to come visit me and my mom 4 times. At that time visa applications cost about $100. That's $400 that they spent for nothing (and all they wanted to do was visit).

If someone is trying to move here because it is their last resort, why would they logically spend hundreds of dollars and months trying to go the legal route?

This is probably where I start to lose you. “Well why don’t they just work within the system like everyone else instead of jumping the border?”

The Road to Citizenship

If you are lucky enough to secure a work visa, find a company that will sponsor you, afford rent and extra money to send back to your family, you’re a quarter of the way there. You must then apply for a green card. There are strict legal definitions for categories of people eligible for green cards and there is a limit on the number of green cards given out each year.

These are the eligibility requirements from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

You may be eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) through your family, a job offer or employment, refugee or asylum status, or a number of other special provisions. In some cases, you may even be able to self petition or have a record created for permanent residence on your behalf. In general, to meet the requirements for permanent residence in the United States, you must:

  • Be eligible for one of the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • Have a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved for you (with a few exceptions)
  • Have an immigrant visa immediately available
  • Be admissible to the United States

After you finally receive your green card, you now have to live and work in the U.S. for at least five years before you can apply for citizenship (three or more for a spouse of a citizen). During this time, you are working, supporting your family abroad, and probably missing them like crazy. American companies are stingy with vacation days and travel can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands.



After your five years of residency, you can apply for naturalization which is the process to become a U.S. Citizen. You file an application, take the naturalization test, and pay the $680 fee. This process can take anywhere from six months to more than a year. There are no guarantees and the government can deny you for any reason it deems appropriate.

With this system it can be nearly impossible for most hard-working and good people to survive a decade or more before they can breathe easy knowing they won’t get deported and the life that they have built for themselves won’t suddenly get taken away.

Put yourself in the shoes of an immigrant. What would you do if the lives of your children depended on this convoluted process?

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