What are the procedures for legal immigration?

With all the debate about illegal immigration, I was wondering about the alternative. My understanding is that back in the 19th century all you basically needed to do to immigrate to America was show up at Ellis Island not showing any visible signs of contagious diseases or Marxism. But suppose I’m an ordinary Mexican in 2007 and I want to go to America for the economic opportunities I’ve heard so much about. What are the procedures I would follow if I wanted to legally immigrate to the Untied States?

There isn’t just one avenue – there are several. But if you are unskilled, uneducated and lack relatives in the US, you essentially have to win a visa
lottery. Others know much more than I about this, including the lovely and talented Evaluna who, if you are very lucky, will fill in the gaps.

There’re four ways of going from Jose SeisPaquetes to Joe SixPack: family, humanitarian reasons, employment, and a lottery. The simplest way to do it is via the family route: have your parent, adult child, or wife be a US Citizen, and they may sponsor you. It’ll take a couple hundred bucks in various fees, and apparently up to a year and a half for INS to check you outand make sure your name doesn’t rhyme with anyone’s name on any of their lists, but it’s a fairly surefire way of eventually getting into the country.
Humanitarian reasons are going to be much more difficult as a Mexican, unless Mexico goes through a heinous famine, or perhaps you can prove you’re being hunted unfairly by the Mexican government. With the current friendship between our governments, we’re much more likely to send food to Mexico than take their citizens, and if the Mexican authorities are hunting you, we won’t grant you asylum, we’d ship you right back.
Employment’s more tricky, unless a US company can prove that you’re a skilled left-handed widget shifter, and they can’t easily find one without importing -your- butt in. There are quotas for unskilled labor, but that’s only a seasonal pass here, and you’ll have to return to Mexico to get it renewed. Limited-skill workers can get extensions to their visas while remaining in the country, and you can try to set about other ways of becoming a citizen while you’re here.
There’s also the lotto, but there are very few spots each year (30,000 maybe? I might be pulling that out of my butt) and you have to be moderately loaded to qualify for one of them, and lucky to get a spot. Much better to go to Veracruz, shack up with some gringa on spring break, marry her, and come up north as her hubby.

After 1882, being Chinese was also a prohibition in almost all cases.

And you have to not be Mexican. The visa lottery was created to correct the imbalance in recent immigration; nationals of countries that have sent large numbers of immigrants (more than 50,000 in the past 5 years) to the U.S. (such as, say, Mexico) aren’t eligible. (There are 55,000 annual slots for the Visa Lottery, and absolutely no monetary requirements. See link for details.)

Thanks, dear - you flatter me. :slight_smile: But anyway, here are the basics, from the horse’s mouth. Feel free to post if you have specific questions about any of the categories, and I’ll try to stop by later.

So yeah, if you’re Mexican, and you don’t have close relatives in the U.S., or professional skills that are difficult to find in the U.S., you’re going to find it practically impossible to immigrate legally. And even if you do have close relatives in the U.S., it’s probably going to take you a LONG time, depending on how close the relatives are. We’ve had a bunch of previous threads on the subject.

Eva Luna, Immigration Paralegal

Here’s how it went for me (I’m British):

My US citizen fiancée filed a petition with USCIS, asking permission for me to apply to immigrate. This was filed with the USCIS service center in Vermont. Fee was about $175, processing time about four weeks. That was exceptionally fast.

Approved petition (NOA2, as we call it) forwarded to the National Visa Center. They approved it in two weeks.

Now forwarded to the US Consulate in London. They send me a pile of forms to fill out. These include affadavits of support, to ensure that I will not have to use public funds for support in the USA. My wife has to send me some financial information support these documents. I also need a certificate showing my police record.

About three months later, I have an interview at the London consulate. I pay an application fee of $100, and I am required to undergo a basic medical that includes checks for HIV, tuberculosis and some other stuff. Fee for this is about $300, IIRC. Oh, and the nice lady doctor felt the need to inspect my testicles.

Interview: it’s like sitting in a huge post office - you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. Then you go to a booth, where you and the interviewer are separated by glass. Fingerprints taken. Guy asks me what I do. He asks how I met my fiancée. He asks me if I’ve ever been to Harrisburg, PA. When I say yes, he asks if I’ve been there in winter. I say yes. He says, “Ah, it must be love!”

Visa approved. Welcome to the USA, he tells me. Two months later I’m at Newark airport and reunited with my love.

That was a K1 visa. Other types, YMMV.

Closer to a couple of thousand, if you’re looking to get permanent residence.

If you’ve got the money, it looks like Immigration through Investment’s the way to go. Setting up a restaurant should easily qualify you.

Of the alternatives being described none seem to apply to my hypothetical average Mexican. We’ll assume he doesn’t have relatives in America, suffer from political oppression, have some unique job skills, or own a business in the US. And he apparently is disqualified form the visa lottery.

So would it be fair to say that if an average Mexican wants to immigrate to the United States, the only option open to him is to immigrate illegally? I don’t want to start a debate here but it appears to me that my ancestors would never have qualified to legally come to America under these rules and I don’t think my situation is uncommon.

According to a piece in the New York Times on May 29, 2006 “Rules Collide With Reality in the Immigration Debate” (free registration required at NYT: a no-registration PDF copy is available here):

So, there are legal opportunities for an average, unskilled, no-US-Citizen-family-ties, non-suffering-from-political-oppression, non-business-owning Mexican to immigrate to the US.

Just not very many of them in any given year, these days.

I think the same applies to Brits these days.

Dunnow about the “average” part, but it may be easier to prove educational requirements and get brought in with a work-related Visa for a Brit. Several of the consultants (from Deloitte and SAP) that worked for a US-company in whose SAP implementation I was involved were Brits and after that project stayed in the US.*
(* My apologies for the convoluted sentence, but I think the grammar is actually correct)

Bingo, pretty much. For most practical purposes, unless you are some kind of whiz in your field, the minimum for a successful employment-based green card case is going to be a bachelor’s degree in a shortage field and some professional work experience, and even then by no means is it a slam-dunk. I’ve heard of a handful of cases in which the person didn’t meet that minimum (a half-dozen commercial laundry workers spring to mind, mostly because no Americans applied to work in the laundry when the position was advertised), but they are definitely the exception.

And yeah, my ancestors wouldn’t have made the cut either.

Does the adult child have to be already resident in the US? Or could I, as an ex-pat US citizen return, bringing my mother with me? She did have a green card, but stayed out of the country for more than a year, long ago.

What would I have to do to return anyway? Something other than turn up at immigration, and say “this is me home for good”, when they ask how long I’m staying? I’ve been in Britain 20+ years, since I was a child, and have dual nationality…

I keep meaning to investigate this when we’re over there, but there’s never enough time, and the urge isn’t strong enough yet.

Hmm. You are a US citizen, and can return to the US any time you like. You have the right to live in the USA, and can’t be turned away. In practice, you’ll probably be asked a few questions by the CBP official, but unless they doubt your citizenship they will have to let you in.

Your mother, though, since she is not a US citizen, will have more problems. If she remained out of the US for a year, she will probably be considered to have abandoned her Lawful Permanent Residency. You could petition for her as your relative, and you’d probably have a good case. BUT, you would need to be resident in the US already, or demonstrate that you intend to return permanently and that she can be supported without recourse to public funds.

Disclaimer: IANAL, and if this is anything other than a hypothetical “What if?” scenario, you would be well advised to contact a US attorney who is a member of the AILA.

Edit to add link: The American Immigration Lawyers Association

Thanks for that. I just looked back at the OP and realised that was a bit of a hijack, Sorry, folks. The link will be helpful, I think… I needed a starting point.

I’d be reluctant to leave her here alone while I moved back, for any period.

Hope the link helps. Here are a couple more:

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

US Embassy in London

Forum to discuss family-based immigration to the USA