What is the process of a European moving to the USA

Everytime I’ve been to Europe I just jumped on a plane with my passport and went. I didn 't need to get a visa before I went.

Is the same true for Europeans coming to the U.S.?

My cousin Weird Harry met a woman online. She’s from Finland. She came here for a visit a few times over the last 3 years. Today I got an invitation for their wedding in June in Minneapolis. I was told that after they’re married she’s going to live here.

How does that work?

When my wifes family came here from Italy they came through Ellis Island and had to jump through all sorts of legal hoops. Of course, that was over 50 years ago.

So what’s the Dope on someone from Finland just packing up and moving to the U.S.

It’s called getting married. She can enter the us on what’s called a fiancée visa (I forget the number code) and has to get married in a certain number days, I think 90. After that she has to adjust her status to Legal Permanent Resident, an expensive and lengthy process. she can still be deported in LPR status if she commits certain crimes, some considered very minor by Americans. After, I think, 3 years of good behavior in LPR status, she can naturalize.

Generally speaking, right now marrying a US citizen is virtually the only way for a European to immigrate to the US if they aren’t on work visas sponsored by their employer.

at the risk of hijacking the simple question in the OP…

The marriage method is rather easy to understand, as far as that goes.

I am curious, however, on the legal methods used by others. I ask because I live in a large urban area, and aside from the number of possible illegal immigrants that one encounters, there are a very large number of people who were not born here but appear to be here legally. How does that work?

All casual discussion here and in the media suggests that the hurdles are high and the procedures are onerous and take years. And yet legal immigration, to my eyes, is very common. I am truly asking because I have no knowledge or experience of how it works. It seems to me that I, as a US citizen, can not really just up and move to Rome and start applying for jobs and just live there. So, how does it all work?

Icarus I would bet a large number of they people you are running into studied in the US and then got jobs under H1B visas and applied for and in a few years received green cards.

Nah, I’m talking about all of the middle aged ladies with thick accents working as sales clerks at Macy’s, and the car repair guys and the cab drivers, and the myriad of clerks processing payments at the bank credit card center. Not your university graduates and H1B jobs.

You can find a basic primer here.

Its not impossible that people with thick accents, and poor knowledge of contemporary American English grammar and diction arrived years ago as children, or are even native born. Its possible to have been exposed your whole life to American schools, culture and television, and not have picked it up. There is, sometimes, strong cultural resistance to assimilation.

The three major categories of legal immigration are family-based (such as by marriage), work-based and asylees and refugees.

In addition, there’s Temporary Protected Status which can make illegal immigration temporarily legal. It doesn’t become permanent on its own, but you’re not forbidden from seeking permanent status when you’re in TPS.

Alright, but what about people just coming here for tourism reasons. How hard was it for her to come here for just a visit?

From the EU very easy, IIRC thirty days with no visa beforehand and ninety with pre approval, if you have nothing that would bar you from entry. Work visas are a whole nother kettle of fish.


I know a lot of people who immigrated to the U.S. from Europe in the 50s and 60s, when it was easier, and most of them still have strong accents.

Not hard. Many countries, including Finland, are in the Visa Waiver Program, so nationals don’t require a visa if they meet certain requirements.

Anecdotally, I have some experience travelling on a United States passport (where many countries don’t require visas) and a South African passport (where many countries do require visas).

As a generalization, you’ll probably find that countries of a similar high standard of development won’t ask for visas from each other’s citizens. In this specific case neither Finland nor the United States are concerned about hoards of Finns or Americans swamping them economically, so neither require visas from the other. Citizens of countries with lower levels of economic development will more likely be asked for visas. When I only had a SA passport I needed visas to travel to Sweden, Portugal and Italy. I also would have required a US visa to visit as a tourist, although that isn’t what I did (I first visited the US on a H1-B work visa, something Europeans would have to do as well if they wanted to work here).

While a Finn can visit the US as a tourist without a visa, you’d need to be careful about what your apparent intent is. I believe entering without the visa is only allowed if you intend to leave within a certain time frame. Even if you intended to fill out the appropriate legal paperwork while here for immigration by marriage you could be in trouble if they thought you entered without the intent to leave.

Personal anecdote regarding immigration, since it seems other posters have given plenty of factual info and resources already. It takes forever! I’m from Germany, and my family moved to the USA when I was five years old (my father works for a large international company which offered him a job in Florida). I’m not sure when we got our Green Cards (such a card identifies you as a legal permanent resident), but it took well over a decade to become citizens through naturalization.

When parents become naturalized as citizens, all of their minor children automatically become US citizens as well. Of course, every citizenship application entails filing fees and such. In a curious coincidence which I’m sure has nothing to do with collecting such fees on a new application, my parents were accepted for naturalization just a few days after my 18th birthday :slight_smile:

So, it took 13 years for my parents to become citizens. It took about 16 years on my end, since it took 3 years after my own application at age 18 to become a citizen. On the plus side, neither the USA nor Germany objected to dual citizenship, which I hear is unusual! Very convenient to have both a United States and a European Union passport.

The VWP applies to those traveling for a visit, up to 90 days. You need a visa to emigrate to the US.

…and I just reread the post and saw you were replying to the part of the question about tourism. Nevermiiiiiind.