By Michael Phulwani
Statistical data on immigration have been published annually by the US government since the 1890s. Over the years, the federal agencies responsible for reporting on immigration have changed, as have the content, format, and title of the annual publication. Currently, immigration data are published by the Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) in the Policy Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The following article provides statistics on the various categories of aliens admitted into the United States with special focus on statistics for the sub-continental countries of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for the year 2008. All data for this article has been obtained from the reports published by the Office of Immigration Statistics.
Naturalizations in the United States: Naturalization is the process by which US citizenship is conferred upon foreign citizens or nationals after fulfilling the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). After naturalization, foreign-born citizens enjoy nearly all the same benefits, rights and responsibilities that the Constitution gives to native born US citizens, including the right to vote. Naturalized citizens can also apply for a US passport to travel overseas and receive US government protection and assistance when abroad. This Office of Immigration Statistics Annual Flow Report presents information on the number and characteristics of foreign nationals aged 18 years and over who were naturalized during 2008.
In 2008, the total number of persons naturalizing was 1,046, 539. India was the second leading country of birth of new citizens. 65,971 (6.3 percent) of the total number of persons naturalizing in 2008 were born in India and 11,813 persons naturalizing were born in Pakistan. The largest number of persons naturalizing lived in California (297,909), Florida (128,328), and New York (90,572).
Results: The number of persons naturalized in the United States increased to 58 percent from 660,447 in 2007 to an all-time record of 1,046,539 in 2008. The increase is primarily attributable to the large volume (1.4 million) of naturalization applications received by USCIS in 2007 in advance of a fee increase and in response to special efforts to encourage eligible applicants to apply for US citizenship. Many of these applications, especially those received during the latter part of 2007, were processed during 2008. The number of naturalization applications pending a decision decreased from 1,130,000 at the end of 2007 to 480,000 by the end of 2008.
US legal permanent residents: A legal permanent resident (LPR) or “green card” recipient is defined by immigration law as a person who has been granted lawful permanent residence in the United States. Permanent resident status confers certain rights and responsibilities. For example, LPRs may live and work permanently anywhere in the United States, own property, and attend public schools, colleges, and universities. They may also join certain branches of the Armed Forces, and apply to become US citizens if they meet certain eligibility requirements. This Office of Immigration Statistics Annual Flow Report presents information obtained from applications for LPR status on the number and characteristics of persons who became LPRs in the United States during 2008.
In 2008, a total of 1,107,126 persons became LPRs of the United States. The majority of new LPRs (58 percent) already lived in the United States when they were granted lawful permanent residence. 65 percent were granted permanent residence based on a family relationship with a US citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States. The leading countries of birth of new LPRs were Mexico (17 percent), China (7 percent), and India (6 percent).
According to the statistics published by the DHS, the number of people who obtained legal permanent resident status in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 totaled 1,266,129 of which 61,369 were born in India and 17,418 were born in Pakistan. For FY 2007, 1,052,415 persons were granted permanent resident status out of which 65,353 were from India and 13,492 were from Pakistan. For FY 2008, 1,107,126 persons were granted permanent resident status, including 63,352 from India and 19,719 from Pakistan. Statistics are also available for persons who obtained legal permanent resident status based on the class of admission.
The legal immigration process
Admission priorities: The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and its amendments are the basis for most immigration laws in effect today. US law gives priority for immigration status to foreign nationals who have a close family relationship with a US citizen or LPR, who have needed job skills, who are from countries with relatively low levels of immigration to the United States, or who have refugee or asylee status.
Preference immigration and diversity limits: The term preference has been used in immigration law to designate priority categories for LPR status. As specified by the Immigration Act of 1990, an annual limit of between 416,000 and 675,000 currently exists for family-sponsored preference, employment preference, and diversity immigrants.
Family-sponsored preferences consist of four categories: unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens and their children; spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents and their children; married sons and daughters of US citizens and their spouses and children; and brothers and sisters of US citizens aged 21 and over, and their spouses and children. The annual limit for family-sponsored preferences ranges from 226,000 to 480,000.
Employment preferences consist of five categories of workers (and their spouses and children): priority workers; professionals with advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability; skilled workers, professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; special immigrants (e.g., ministers, religious workers, and employees of the US government abroad); and employment creation immigrants or “investors.” The employment preference limit is equal to 140,000 plus any unused family preferences from the previous year.
Diversity immigrants are nationals of countries with low rates of legal immigration to the United States. The annual Diversity limit has been 50,000 since 1999. Nationals of countries with more than 50,000 numerically limited admissions during the preceding five years are excluded from participating in the Diversity Program. The Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) calculates Diversity limits for six broad world regions using data collected by US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The limits are calculated annually using a formula based on immigrant admissions during the preceding five years and the population total of the region. The maximum limit per country is 3,850.
To be concluded
Michael Phulwani is a prominent attorney admitted to practice law in New York, New Jersey and India. He practices immigration and nationality laws and visa matters in the USA and abroad. He is a frequent lecturer on immigration laws and co-hosts several TV and radio programs on immigration. In this column, Phulwani will discuss frequent problems relating to immigration legislation and answer questions from our readers. All questions should be forwarded to Michael Phulwani, 888 Maywood Avenue, Maywood, NJ 07607.