CRS Report: Snapshot of Green Card System – Before CIR

Though illegal immigration gets the lion’s share of the press coverage – and legislative attention – lawful immigration is enormously important to the U.S. economy and to millions of immigrant families here. Now that comprehensive immigration reform is a live possibility again in Congress, the green card system is certain to figure in the debate.

Congressional Research Service, which supplies non-partisan public policy research to members of Congress, recently released a paper outlining the current situation for aspiring green card applicants. [See Permanent Legal Immigration to the United States: Policy Overview, by Ruth Ellen Wasem, 17.Dec.2012, Congressional Research Service, available on the Federation of American Scientists WebSite.] In clear, concise language, the CRS report explains the legal immigration preference system for family-sponsored and employment-based immigrants, and outlines the other major channels of legal immigration: the diversity lottery, cancellation of removal, the asylum process, refugees, and various special-status categories.

Perhaps what’s most interesting – especially to those who already understand the essentials of our green card system – is the section on immigration trends and demographics from 1900 to 2010. Early in the 20th century, Italy, Russia, and Austria-Hungary were the top sending countries, but by mid-century, immigrants from Mexico, Canada, Germany, and England comprised more than half of all immigrants entering the United States. Fast forward to the last two decades of the twentieth century, and countries like India, China, Korea, and Vietnam comprised an increasing percentage of immigrants granted LPR status (lawful permanent residence) here.

By fiscal year (FY) 2011, the situation looked like this:

  • About 1.1 million people became LPRs in FY11.
  • In FY11, the top five sending countries for LPRs were Mexico (14%), China (8.2%), India (6.5%), Philippines (5.4%), and the Dominican Republic (4.3%).
  • Of the 1.1 million LPRs admitted in FY11, 43% were immediate relatives, 22% were family-sponsored, 16% were refugees and asylees, 13% were employment-based, 5% diversity lottery, and 1% “all others.”
  • Of the 4.5 million approved LPR visa petitions pending in November 2011, sibling petitions accounted for 55%; married adult children, 18%; LPR adult unmarried children, 11%; LPR spouses and children, 7%; unmarried adult children, 6%; employment-based petitions, 3%.

The CRS report is a good, quick read for anyone who wants a better understanding of our green card system, summarizing the legal and policy underpinnings and giving a useful statistical portrait of the applicant pool – just what’s needed to better understand the system as it is, before Congress starts debating how to change it.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.