The Waiting Game Part II: Immigrating Through An Employer, Other Ways to Immigrate

Who is eligible to immigrate to the United States and how long do they have to wait?


The Immigration Act of 1990 limits the total annual number of immigrant visas distributed each year to between 416,000 and 675,000. See, Randal Monger and James Yankah, “Annual flow report,” April 2012, DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. 

The limit of 675,000 visas does not include spouses and minor, unmarried children of the visa-holder who immigrate with the visa holder. Additionally, people who immigrate as refugees and asylees are not counted in the 675,000 visas.

So while approximately 675,000 immigrant visas are distributed each year, the number of annual actual immigrants was just over one million in 2011. The only ways people can legally immigrate to the United States are listed in the chart in this blog post and in the last blog post, The Waiting Game Part I.  

There are very few ways to immigrate to the United States legally unless you have a close family member who is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, or unless you possess job skills needed in the United States.  

To give these numbers and the numbers published last week some context, the United States is currently accepting the same number of immigrants to the United States as we did in the early part of the last century. 

After 1914, immigration went down to between 300,000 and 800,000 immigrants per year until the 1930s. During the Great Depression and World War II, immigration to the United States was historically very low between 30,000 and 90,000 people per year. 

From 1945 until 1988, immigration to the United States was between 100,000 and 600,000 people per year. From 1989 to the present, immigration to the United States has remained steady at around 1 million per year. There was a spike in 1990 and 1991 of approximately 1.5 and 1.8 million per year, respectively. This spike is likely accounted for by the amnesty program enacted by Congress in 1986 under President Reagan. 

According to the U.S. Department of State there were 4,624,399 approved immigrant visas pending in 2012. In other words, more than 4.6 million people are waiting in line to immigrate to the United States. They are the lucky ones; most people don’t even have a way to immigrate. See also, Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick, “Solving the immigration puzzle” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 24, 2013.

In the some of the comments over the past week, I noticed a concern about immigration fraud. While it would be naive to claim that there is no fraud in immigration, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State are very good and detecting and reducing fraud. 

Many people who immigrate through a family member must submit DNA evidence to prove the familial relationship. Additionally, when people immigrate through a spouse, DHS conducts very thorough fraud interviews where they suspect fraud.  Having sat through several of these interviews, I realize that it is easy to pass the interview if you are truly married to your spouse, but almost impossible to pass if you are not in a true relationship. If you are not living with your spouse, how do you know who wakes up first in the morning and how your spouse wakes up? I will discuss these issues in greater depth in up-coming posts.

Similarly, I noticed that some people could not understand how peoples’ cousins immigrated to the United States. There are a few possible scenarios which would account for this immigration. First, the cousins’ parents could be a sibling of a U.S. citizen and they could immigrate to the United States and bring their spouse and minor, unmarried children. However, siblings from most countries have to wait for 12 years to immigrate, while siblings from Mexico have to wait 17 years, and siblings from the Philippines have to wait approximately 25 years to immigrate. Another way would be if the cousins’ parents were immigrating either through an employer or through the diversity lottery.

Today’s post focuses on employment-based immigration and miscellaneous forms of immigration including diversity lottery immigrants and refugees and asylees.  Refugees and asylees are people who flee their home-country because of persecution usually due to political beliefs, religious beliefs, or because the person is a member of a persecuted social group. 

An example of a refugee or asylee would be a women’s rights activist from Afghanistan who survived several murder attempts by the Taliban or a Christian in Pakistan whose family founded and ran a Christian school and the family was subsequently persecuted by local government officials and by Pakistani mobs.  The difference between a refugee and an asylee is that a refugee applies for relief outside the United States and an asylee applies for relief inside the United States. 

Diversity lottery immigrants are people who apply for and are granted immigrant visas through the diversity lottery, the purpose of which is to increase immigration from countries with historically low levels of immigration to the United States.  Citizens of many countries such as Mexico, Canada, China, and India are precluded from participating in the lottery. In fact, in 2013, only three immigrant visas are set aside for all of North America – more specifically the Bahamas. 

There are roughly 250 applicants for each diversity lottery visa.

Below is a chart listing all of the people who can immigrate through an employer or who can immigrate as an entrepreneur. For most of these categories (except for the priority workers—the first category on the chart) an employer must apply on behalf of the immigrant. The employer must show that there are no U.S. workers who are willing or able to take the job; that the employer is paying the higher of either the prevailing wage in the industry or at the company; and that the employer has not trained the worker for this position. It is a very complex process and more than half of all immigration lawyers specialize in employment-based immigration. In the spirit of full disclosure, I do not practice employment-based immigration law.

Immigrating through an employer or as an entrepreneur

 Who Can Immigrate

How Many People Immigrated in this Category in 2011

How Long is the Wait for this Category

Immigrants known as “Priority Workers” (generally those with PhDs or who have won significant awards like a Nobel Prize or an Olympic Medal) their spouse and minor children


There is currently no wait for this category

Professionals with advanced degrees or “exceptional” immigrants and their spouses and minor children


Immigrants from India must wait about 8.5 years; immigrants from China must wait about five years; there is no wait for immigrants from any other country

Skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers, their spouses and minor children. To qualify the employer must show that there are no U.S. workers able to do this work; that the employer is paying the prevailing wage in the industry; and that the employer did not train the worker for this position


Immigrants from India must wait about 10.5 years; immigrants from the Philippines must wait about seven years; immigrants from China must wait about 6.5 years; and immigrants from other countries must wait about six years

Religious workers, their spouses and minor children


There is currently no wait for this category

Entrepreneurs and their spouses and minor children. To qualify the entrepreneurs must invest between $500,000 and $1 million (depending on where they locate the business); hire at least 10 U.S. workers; and make sure that the money is at risk. An investor cannot get this visa by buying $500,000 or even $1 million worth of Apple® shares


There is currently no wait for this category


Miscellaneous Ways to Immigrate


Who Can Immigrate

How Many People Immigrated In This Category In 2011

How Long Is The Wait For This Category

Immigrant Diversity Lottery.  Only citizens from certain countries qualify.  For example the 2013 lottery is limited to 3 immigrants from North America (the Bahamas) and their spouses and minor children, and 775 immigrants from South America and the Caribbean.  Most people who are eligible for the lottery are from Africa (22,000) and Europe (13,400) 


There is no wait

Refugees and Asylees and their spouses and minor children


There is no wait

Undocumented immigrants who are granted relief in removal proceedings.  These people must show that they are of good moral character, that they have been living in the United States for ten years before being placed in removal proceedings, and that it would cause their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent, spouse, or child(ren) "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" if they were deported.  It is very difficult to get this form of relief.


There is no wait

Given these long waits, especially for highly skilled employees, it makes sense that Mitt Romney, when running for President told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials:  “As president, I'd reallocate green cards to those seeking to keep their families under one roof. And we will exempt from caps the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents. And we will eliminate other forms of bureaucratic red tape that keep families from being together." He added: "And if you get an advanced degree here, we want you to stay here. So I'd staple a green card to the diploma of someone who gets an advanced degree in America."  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/06/22/romney-immigration-promises-hard-to-deliver/#ixzz2GZK5acKe.  Senator Marco Rubio (R. Fl.) has put forward his plan for immigration reform, a bipartisan group of Senators have put forward their plans and Obama is expected to set forward his plan later this week. In the coming weeks, after examining the border and border security, I will analyze each one of these proposals.  Enacting immigration reform would help the waiting game and probably help the U.S. economy at the same time.

Next week:  Securing The Border – Hint:  It’s Already Secured

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jane Darwin January 29, 2013 at 06:22 PM
Good information. We have a tendency to hear Immigration and think only the about the issue of illegal immigration. I am a first generation American and I sponsored my cousin who had to be on a lottery for 5 year to immigrate from Canada. He had to demonstrate verifiable employment and I had to be able to post bond for him and his family. Not everyone who want to come here legally can do that. If we take a look at who wants to come here legally and help that process along we might lessen those who come illegally. We also have to make it very difficult to find employment and services for those who are coming into the country illegally so we can encourage those who do it the right way . I also agreed with Rommey's idea of really encouraging those who have met the challenge of an advanced degree to stay.
Irene Aida Garza-Ortiz January 30, 2013 at 04:45 AM
I agree, very good read!
JustUs January 30, 2013 at 05:04 AM
Most people don't have a problem with LEGAL immigration as long as the immigrants are skilled and do not use fraudulent means (fake documents) to gain entry. When unemployment is high (as it is now) we certainly do NOT need unskilled indigents who sneak across the border. And we certainly should NOT reward criminal alien lawbreakers with a 'path to citizenship' while putting the law-abiding migrants who filled out their paperwork, paid their fees in a holding pattern for YEARS and make them wait for notification from our Immigration and Naturalization Service that they are deemed ready for entry into our nation.
Bret D. Rijke January 30, 2013 at 05:17 AM
I would add that we as a nation should be able to mandate that any legal immigrant wishing to join into the American society would be able to prove themselves as being able to add to the strength of this Republic. This of course means being able to show proof that the potential immigrant would not in any way be receiving public service benefits or "handouts". They should also have to show a high probability of being to assimiliate into the American Culture.
JustUs January 30, 2013 at 05:46 AM
Yeah, I'd buy into that. Also, if I were King of America I would prohibit any form of "dual-citizenship". I would tell the prospective immigrant "You gotta choose. Us or them. You can't have both. And I need to know by the end of the day". I think that's totally fair. You want to be an American? Then put all your skin in the game. All or nothing. Take it or leave it. Very fair.
John W. January 30, 2013 at 05:51 AM
Good topic, great article. I have to concur, there are many options that come up to immigrate into thd U.S., but the truth is it's more complex than you could imagine. The borders are squirming with the latest trends- that's where they cross. Merle, I have to say though, are these assumptions of how people make it here every week or from courtroom experience. Because there are many that make it free but never come into the judicial system to give you an example. New immigrants are here every week. The story goes, how is the information going to actually make anything better? They don't want to come over here with strings attached. True, they tale up the jobs many of us wouldn't want to do, maybe a teen to learn how to work. There us not enough in the economy to run a perfect working country. If there was, we'd all have eaten a burger that's been spat on. If you have a pick up truck, go to 7 eleven in, I think it's called San Mateo, and drive around the corner once or twice. Even throw a peice sign up and I gaurantee you'll have two running for the work to your truck. nothing new can never stop nothing. Merle I could go on forever
Jim C January 30, 2013 at 06:54 PM
The most important thing we can do for legal immigration is to assure that the people coming in are: 1) Young, because we're going to need people to fund the baby-boomer's retirement or 2) Job producers - those that have the ability to start or expand industries
Becky Honkington January 30, 2013 at 07:20 PM
How does a person prove that they would not in any way ever receive public service benefits? Once a person is an American Citizen, they are entitled to all the services and benefits a natural born citizen has. That is what it means to become a citizen.
Bret D. Rijke January 30, 2013 at 10:30 PM
@ Becky Honkington; Okay, I'll go slower this time so there is no misunderstanding. No prospective citizen shall be eligible for; welfare, section 8 housing, interpreter services, food stamps or EBT cards, affirmative action hiring, state subsidence regardless of dependents. This would go with the fact that of the last 10 million California additions, over 7 million are now on sone sort of public support. And of course any conviction for DUI, sex offense, drug related, or any other crime results in an automatic expulsion on completion of the sentence. With the deficits we are running, and the unemployment rate we are witnessing, I think we should only allow those in who will provide services beneficial to the state and only in fields which are critical for employees.
JustUs January 30, 2013 at 10:59 PM
Bret, anyone who entered the nation illegally is a criminal. Criminals, by definition, do not honor the laws. Therefore, no one who entered the nation illegally should be given any sort of legal residence, whether it's by a 'path to citizenship' or 'amesty' which are indistinguishable IMO. Thinking that a criminal won't commit more crimes is wildly naive. So we should "allow those in who will provide services beneficial to the state and only in fields which are critical for employees" (I agree) AND only those who applied for legal entry into the United States while in their countries of origin and waited until their request was granted by INS. That is a SANE plan. Amesty or a 'path to citizenship' for lawbreakers is an INSANE plan. Very simple to figure out. ...
Chyanne January 30, 2013 at 11:05 PM
who the hell's going to want to come over after that, change your picture, you're insane!
Bret D. Rijke January 31, 2013 at 04:15 AM
@ JustUs; I agree. I am opposed to any sort of amnesty. If history has taught us anything it is that amnesty in regards to illegal aliens is just another word for appeasement. And we all know where that leads! My only point was that for legal immigration rules. As a sidebar, what is really funny is to peruse the 1964 Immigration Act and the words that were spoken by the Progressives at the time to get it passed. Every single one of the Progressives absolutely guaranteed that what has come to pass, would never come to pass. We can thank Ted Kennedy specifically for that one!
None January 31, 2013 at 04:21 AM
Consider this, an individual comes into this country illegally or they have overstayed their visa, they have broken the law of the land. If someone breaks the law, they are, by definition, a criminal and then the question is, why give them any path to citizenship, the right to vote or any benefits of being a legal member of our society? Consider an individual attempting to enter this country by the rules and the law, why should they have to wait for years while a criminal is offered amnesty? I believe that comprehensive immigration reform is real security of all of our borders and knowing where every illegal immigrant is and taking legal action to remove them from this country immediately. It also includes a very stiff penalty to anyone who offers them employment. I would call that real comprehensive immigration reform.
Bret D. Rijke January 31, 2013 at 04:30 AM
@ Chyanne; response page 1 You wrote; “who the hell's going to want to come over after that, change your picture, you're insane!” Well, I’ll attempt to tackle those two items. First off, in answering your eloquently phrased opening question, I would offer that only those who can actually produce something of significant value for our country and maintain independent productivity without absorbing an unequal share of public services should ever be encouraged to immigrate into the USA. We are running deficits and the public sector is hemorrhaging jobs and the ability to provide basic services. In California alone, for every 100 workers there are 136 folks who are consuming some percentage of Public Services. I do not profess to know your mathematical IQ, but this process is what we refer to as an unsustainable cycle.
Bret D. Rijke January 31, 2013 at 04:30 AM
@ Chyanne; response page 2 Plus, if we are to be honest, the majority of illegal immigrants are flowing northwards from Central and South America. The cultural differences are profound in their effect. Whether or not you think that is an enriching facet of diversity is quite besides the point when compared with the facts. Diversity breeds the most distrusting and broken societies throughout history. So before you get angry with me for writing this, you may as well rail against history. And the job skills and technological benefits of these illegal aliens are not very advantageous to us either. What we do not need is anymore is lower skilled, non-English speaking, ER visiting for the common cold, section 8 housing applying, welfare recipient, EBT card carrying people in this state. And I even left out, for sake of politeness, the elevated rates of crime they bring. As for my screen avatar… okay, picture. I did not know that you were so unnerved by the sight of a dog singing and playing the piano. I rather like it, as do many of my friends. But I do not see how that qualifies me as one who is insane. I would offer that insanity would be more aptly applied to folks who are clamoring for amnesty for the approximate 20 million illegal aliens while we find ourselves in the midst of the gravest financial struggle in over 80 years. That is insane. BTW, really like the different spelling on your screen name!
Bret D. Rijke January 31, 2013 at 04:36 AM
"Out of deference to the critics, I want to comment on … what the bill will not do. First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same … Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset … Contrary to the charges in some quarters, S.500 will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and economically deprived nations of Africa and Asia. In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think. Thirdly, the bill will not permit the entry of subversive persons, criminals, illiterates, or those with contagious disease or serious mental illness. As I noted a moment ago, no immigrant visa will be issued to a person who is likely to become a public charge..." Ted Kennedy defending the 1965 Immigration Bill that has changed the face of America.
TGD January 31, 2013 at 05:16 AM
J-Walk and you......."have broken the law of the land. If someone breaks the law, they are, by definition, a criminal"
Chyanne January 31, 2013 at 05:58 AM
Hey Bret, sorry I thought it was a picture of an M-16 or some sort of high artillery weapon until I looked at it. You're right it is a piano. Okay so I agree with the rules; it was just too harsh to read them and look at the picture I thought was something else. But you're right those are good rules because they are all bad things that can happen. I have to say though your criticism on classifying people with "different breeds" and "aliens" is, or or you sound like a bigot, or a narcissist. You're classifying human beings as dogs and cats, what does that make you? That's why America can be so corrupt with out women, some of you guys just mess it up for, should I say, all of you.
JustUs January 31, 2013 at 07:03 AM
Listen up, folks. This is not 1945 and these are not Europeans coming to America to leave their nations behind and throw their heart and souls into being Americans. This is an entirely different breed. You progressive out there: Watch out what you wish for. Your children are going to live in this country for a long, long time. That's all I have to say. Most of my life is over with. I still care what happens, of course. But I don't have the skin the game that your children do. You'd better think long and hard about what path you want this nation to take. Your kids are depending on you.
JustUs February 04, 2013 at 12:51 AM
It would sure be nice to get Merle's opinion on some of the stuff the commenters say since she is an immigration attorney. Not just what the statute's say. But, instead, her opinion. I know more than a few attorneys have have some in the family. And they have strong opinions on civic matters. Come on, Merle. What do you think?
haveapizza February 13, 2013 at 07:06 PM
Alot of great and rational comments here. The whole immigration debate has gotten derailed by illegal immigration. Not only has illegal immigration been a financial disaster for California and other areas most effected, it has also stopped any progress toward real immigration reform. The nation has a crying need for more highly skilled, highly educated professionals, physicians, nurses, those with technical skills. But the vast majority of recent illegal immigrants have been destitute, unskilled and uneducated. The opposite of what we, as a nation, have needed. And in all the discussion of refrom, the focus continues to be on that group, and in a one sided way. There is much discussion on what WE can do to assist them in the process. But where is the discussion of what those illegal immigrants can contribute to the nation in terms of skills. I dont mean a rudimentary ability to speak English. I mean real skills that will help build the nation. its not a topic, on either side of the aisle. Why?
JustUs February 13, 2013 at 07:35 PM
Looks like Merle is still 'out to lunch' and not chiming in here. Why so standoffish, Merle? You wrote the article. Why not participate in the comments of your article? The commenters are asking excellent questions here and, as an immigration lawyer AND the article's author, you should respond.
Sheila Sanchez (Editor) February 13, 2013 at 07:42 PM
JustUs, Merle is doing Patch a favor by blogging about immigration issues. She's not receiving any compensation to blog. She's under no obligation to answer questions posed here by readers. I also can't keep track of all the comments made on all our stories, but if there's a question that you really want me to research, just leave it here for me and I'll do my best to get an answer. Thanks.
JustUs February 13, 2013 at 07:58 PM
"JustUs, Merle is doing Patch a favor by blogging about immigration issues." Doing a 'favor'? Really? So she spends her time writing all this stuff only for our benefit? Do you know her? How do you know what her intentions are? " She's under no obligation to answer questions posed here by readers." As the author, I think she should clarify her writings, especially when people point out inconsistencies in what she writes or questions what she writes. It would seem to me that readers have a right to clarification. Don't you, Sheila? "I also can't keep track of all the comments made on all our stories, but if there's a question that you really want me to research, just leave it here for me and I'll do my best to get an answer." Go back over all the articles Merle's written, Sheila. There are probably dozens of questions. Why should I document all of them for you? And I don't want your answers to my questions. Merle wrote the article. I want her to substantiate her writings. Why is that asking so much, dear?


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