How The US Immigration System Works

Mohamed Malim

person with backpack walking in citty

The complexities of the US immigration system can make the thought of moving to the U.S. seem complex and downright impossible. The United States government has to ensure that immigration law strictly monitors and controls the number of immigrants who come into the country each year.

The often artificially stringent laws are in place because of the sheer magnitude of people around the world who want nothing more than to move to the land of the free and home of the brave. With growing tension between political parties in the United States and paranoid isolationism among some, immigration laws are becoming more strict.

The U.S. government has a long history of stringent criteria for immigration, but nonetheless immigrants have persisted in pursuing a new life. The U.S. is essentially a country of immigrants who chose to settle there for numerous reasons, and therein lies an interesting tale of the country’s complex, often fraught immigration system.

Here at Epimonia, a purchase of any one of our products will help a charity that helps supports refugees and immigrants. Read more to find out why the immigration system is so difficult to overcome and why any financial assistance counts.

From the past to the present

When a person is considering migrating to the US, it’s crucial to familiarize oneself with the general and current immigration law. The law that governs US immigration is abbreviated INA, which stands for the Immigration and Nationality Act

There is an annual figure set by the incumbent government dictating how many immigrants can be allowed into the country on a given year. Presently, that number is 675,000 immigrant per year across diverse visa categories. 

The US Immigration system is based on four main pillars that are in the best interest of the country. These pillars ensure that the US admits highly skilled individuals who help build the economy of the U.S. Those reasons include:

  • Encouraging diversity
  • Providing a safe have for refugees
  • Reunifying families

In theory, that means that anyone applying for a US visa to gain permanent residency will be granted a US visa based on the above mentioned US immigration needs and policy.

One of the reasons that getting a U.S. visa for permanent residency in the US may seem like playing a lottery is because there are so many immigration applicants that far exceed that set limit for annual U.S. visa immigrant admission into the country. 

The system is generally merit-based to ensure that migrants get a fair chance. It’s important to note that a ‘merit-based’ system has its flaws, often overlooking the disparity between immigrants from different countries.

In fairness to all applicants and for the sake of diversity, the U.S. has made sure that it only admits 7% of any immigration applicants from any given country. 

A successful immigration applicant to the U.S. in most cases receives an LPR. That is an acronym for Lawfull Permanent Resident. It means that an applicant has been been granted an immigration visa and that one can be able to legally stay and work in the US. 

Even if one doesn't have a job, the LPR status allows the individual to stay in the country legally and permanently. Immigrants in the US who have LPR status can apply for US citizenship after three to five years. 

The LPR paves the way to citizenship. 

Related: What Is the Difference Between a Refugee and an Immigrant?

US Green Card

What is the US green card? The green card is what one gets when their immigrant application to the US has been accepted by the US immigration system. It signifies that an individual is now a legal permanent resident of the the United States of America. 

The official name is the same as the LPR discussed above. 

Who is eligible for a green card

Any one can apply for a green card provided you fit under one of the green card categories below 

  • Green card through registry
  • Green card through family
  • Green card through special immigrant
  • Green card through employment
  • Green card for human trafficking and crime victims
  • Green card through refugee and asylum status
  • Green card through other categories such as the Diversity Immigrant Visa program
  • Green car for victims of abuse

Reunification of families or family based immigration

The US government under their immigration law are keen on uniting families of persons who have been admitted inside the US legally. 

The family re-unification principle ensures that Legal Permanent Residents as well as U.S. citizens have a chance of bringing some of the family members to the country. This form of immigration seem to be the easiest way to attain a green card - however, beneficiaries of this principle may have to wait on a long queue before the system can get to them. 

That is because the restriction of 7% immigration applications from any country rule applies, amongst other factors. 

The benefactors of family-based immigration (which comprises of immediate relatives and a family preference system) have to meet certain criteria. For instance, when petitioning for immediate relatives such as parents, the petitioner must be a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years of age. 

There may other financial requirements as well under the immediate relative system. 

What is defined as immediate relatives under the family unification principle for the petitioner are spouse, parent and unmarried children under 21 years old.

In the family preference system, the petitioner must be a citizen, at least 21 years of age, and eligible under certain financial requirements. The law says a petitioner can only petition for their siblings, spouse, adult children (married and unmarried). 

They can also petition for the unmarried children (minor and adults) and spouses of LPRs.

The reunification of families principle is embodied in the immigration law for a reason -  to provide an opportunity for immigrants to make a life for themselves and their loved ones in the United States. That also explains why family sponsored immigrants form the largest piece of the pie in all the immigration visas issued in any given year. 

In 2017, for instance, family sponsored immigrants were approximately 66% compared to employee based immigrants who made up only 12% of the population.

The lowest percentage is represented by the diversity visa program which accounted for 5%. Refugees have always been an integral part of US immigration; in 2017 they accounted for 11% of all the immigrants in that year. 

It’s worth noting that clearest path to citizenship for immigrants looking to enter and live in America is through having an LPR status. The US Immigration law may seem convoluted, but at the heart of it it features a few simple roads with broad tenets to govern the process. 


Even a legal pathway to citizenship in the United States is anything but easy. It can take years to process, and in the worst case scenario, it can even be denied. At Epimonia, we believe in spreading hope and love for both immigrants and refugees. Check out our products to discover how your charitable giving can start today.

Related: 19 Ways to Help Refugees

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