Sunday, December 06, 2009

Immigration 101: Refugee/Asylum Status and Diversity Visas

Previously, I stated that our immigration law doesn't care about who wants to come to the U.S., but instead cares only about who people in the U.S. want to bring here. This is not entirely true. There are two basic ways an alien can come to the U.S. because they want to come here, but they are very limited. These are refugee and asylum, as well as the diversity visa program. The former is intended for humanitarian purposes, and the latter is for the purpose of encouraging diversity in the U.S.


Refugees are people who are persecuted, by their government or an entity the government is unable or unwilling to control, because of their membership in a discrete social group (think religion, race, or homosexuality) or for their political opinion. As long as they can prove these things, the requirements for refugees are much looser than for other types of immigrants--Basically, they just have to prove they aren't a terrorist or haven't supplied "material support" to terrorists (the definition is the issue of much contention). The USCIS Refugee Affairs Division (often called the "refugee corps") conducts interviews of these people to determine which ones are admitted to the U.S. If they are, we pay for their flight, and they get basically all of their immigration benefits for free.


An asylee is a person who meets the definition of a refugee, but is already inside the United States. They can make an application for asylum by filing Form I-589 with USCIS, or by raising the issue in removal proceedings. If they are eligible for asylum, it doesn't matter how they got here: They could be border jumpers, or have gotten in based on fraudulent documents, or any other way, including legally. Asylees also get their immigration benefits without paying any fees.

The Diversity Visa Program

The Diversity Immigrant Visa is a bit of an odd duck in immigration law. Often called the "visa lottery," it is just that: Numbers are assigned randomly to all the applicants, who must be from countries with low rates of immigration into the U.S. If you apply, you just hope your number comes up by the end of the year (only 50,000 can get in on this program each year, though usually not all of the numbers are used up).


Now, you know all of the ways an alien can become a permanent resident of the United States of America: (1) A U.S. relative wants them here, (2) a U.S. business needs them here, (3) they want to come to avoid persecution in their homeland, or (4) they just get lucky.

Next time, I will discuss nonimmigrant visas, or visas for people who are just visiting.

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