If you’re new to learning about how the U.S. immigration system works, it can seem overwhelmingly complicated at first. This blog post will break down the basics in simple terms to help you get oriented.

The main law governing immigration in the U.S. is called the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It sets limits on how many people can immigrate each year, and divides immigrants into different categories.

Here’s a quick overview of the main categories:

Family-based Immigration

This allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents (green card holders) to sponsor certain family members to immigrate to the U.S. There is no limit on the number of visas for spouses, minor children, and parents of adult U.S. citizens. But there are annual caps for other relatives like siblings and adult children.

Employment-based Immigration

This category is for people with skills deemed valuable to the U.S. economy. It includes priority workers with extraordinary abilities, professionals with advanced degrees, skilled and unskilled workers, investors creating U.S. jobs, and special immigrant workers like religious ministers. There’s an annual cap of 140,000 for primary employment-based immigrants.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The U.S. offers protection to people who have fled persecution in their home countries and can’t safely return. Refugees apply from abroad, while asylum seekers request protection after arriving in the U.S. The president sets an annual refugee admissions goal in consultation with Congress. There is no cap for asylum.

Diversity Immigrant Visa

Also known as the green card lottery, this program issues 50,000 visas per year to people from countries with historically low immigration to the U.S. It promotes diversity among immigrant nationalities.

Other Immigrant Visas

There are various smaller visa categories like victims of crimes or human trafficking, Afghan and Iraqi translators, and other special immigrants. These visas have their own eligibility requirements but no caps.

Non-immigrant Visas

These allow foreign nationals to enter the U.S. temporarily for reasons like tourism, business, study, or temporary work. Some common examples are tourist visas, student visas, and H-1B visas for skilled workers. They are issued for fixed time periods.

Humanitarian Programs

Programs like Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and humanitarian parole temporarily protect vulnerable individuals already in the U.S. from deportation.

As you can see, U.S. immigration law sets annual caps for most categories, with exceptions for immediate family members of U.S. citizens and humanitarian admissions. People can also come temporarily on non-immigrant visas or gain lawful permanent residence if already living in the U.S.

Green Card Holders

Immigrants who gain permanent resident status get identification cards commonly called “green cards.” They can then live and work permanently in the U.S. After 5 years (or 3 years for spouses of citizens), they can apply to become U.S. citizens. Gaining citizenship allows them to vote, access certain jobs, and get a U.S. passport.

When You Need Immigration Assistance

At Liu & Associates, we are committed to helping you achieve your immigration goals. Our team of experienced attorneys provides personalized legal services to assist you in navigating the complex U.S. immigration system. We collaborate closely with each client to understand their unique situation and timeline. With effective communication and diligent preparation, we work to ensure a smooth approval process for your case. Whether you are located in the U.S. or overseas, we have the knowledge and resources to guide you through any immigration matter. To get started, contact our office today to schedule a consultation. Call 212-709-8042 or complete our online intake form and a member of our team will be in touch. We look forward to assisting you on your immigration journey.