The Cost of Getting a Green Card

greencard

We’ve been hearing much news of a migration crisis lately, as wave after wave of undocumented immigrants, especially children, come across the United States’ southern border. Of course, immigration, both legal and illegal, is not new, and whatever the mode and motivation for entry, when people want or need to stay here permanently, it comes down to getting a green card. It will not surprise you to learn that this can be a difficult and costly process.

A green card, which may or may not actually be green, is a Permanent Resident Card. To have one is to be able to remain in the United States indefinitely and, most importantly, to be able to work here. Permanent Resident status is also the first step toward full citizenship, which is more advantageous than mere residency because it allows you to vote and run for office (but not President!), and protects you against deportation in the event that you are convicted of a felony. (It is a big, crucial first step. After you get to be a resident, citizenship is comparatively easy.)

It is probably too plain to mention that the reasons why people find themselves wanting or needing green cards are numerous and varied. We are all most likely aware of the so-called dreamers, people whose parents brought them here when they were quite young and who have grown up in the United States, speaking English and generally leading the lives of ordinary Americans, but without the benefit of legal status. There are also plenty of immigrants who came of their own volition and have simply built lives here that they don’t want to abandon: jobs, houses, relationships, children, studies. Further along, I’ll talk with J., who came here for college and graduate school and found herself wanting to keep studying and to stay with her American boyfriend. Her path was complicated but relatively smooth and low cost. That is not always the case.

The expenses associated with getting a green card come in three general categories: official fees paid to the government, professional fees (lawyers, passport photos, etc.), and black market costs (fake documents, fake marriages, scams of all sorts). I talked to some immigration lawyers and some immigrants I know to get a sense of what these costs can look like.

First, the official costs. A green card application costs a total of $1,490. (If I were in charge, it would be $1,492, because government bureaucracy needs a little whimsical irony.) That is definitely not nothing, but Danielle Briand and Yazmin Rodriguez, immigration lawyers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who were good enough to give me some orientation in this realm, told me that the immigration service is pretty good about giving people waivers for financial hardship. Of course, there are many many permutations and combinations of fees you might have to pay (here is a daunting pdf of all of them). With the cost of possible appeals, ancillary forms and fees that different circumstances might require, and medical examination and mailing costs, it would be easy to drop $2,000 just on government fees.

(One immigrant I spoke to came as a child from the Soviet Union, and both of his parents were granted residency right away [there was an arrangement for Soviet Jews in the late '70s]. Upon arriving, his parents dutifully embraced American customs by getting divorced, which they did before working out their child’s immigration status. At the time, there was no form for divorced permanent residents applying jointly for their minor child, so they both filled out identical applications as single, divorced parents. This proved too complicated for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which “shelved” the application, and had our poor protagonist and his parents coming back every six months to fill out a new form, pay another few hundred dollars, and wait some more. This continued for 15 years, until the young immigrant in question had the good fortune to be college roommates with the son of a well-connected politician in Washington. Then, suddenly, all it took was one phone call.)

After the government fees, there are the legal fees. Briand and Yazmin, who use a “low-bono” sliding scale schedule of fees, told me that it’s not uncommon for lawyers with standard fee schedules to charge $3,000 for a straightforward green card application (e.g., a spousal application). The cost can quickly go up if there are complications, like criminal convictions, the prior use of false documents, or anything else unusual. She told me that $6,000 to $10,000 is common.

And then there are the black market costs. The green card application process can take a long time, and people often have to eat while waiting for their papers. Many immigrants I’ve met have resolved this through the acquisition of fake documents. (Note: as an attorney, I emphatically do not recommend this. But people do it. A lot.) At their best (and most expensive), fake papers can be quite useful. From talking to immigrants, I have learned that there is a man in a certain Central American capital who, for $6,000, will get you a U.S. passport with a name and photo of your choosing that will scan as real on border crossing computers. In New York City, $150-$200 will get you work documents connected to a real Social Security number. $75 will get you a color copy on thick paper that looks like a Social Security card as long as you don’t look closely enough to see that it is actually a “Social Segurity” card.

Another costly, sometimes effective option is the sham marriage. Talking to Briand and Rodriguez and various immigrants, I’ve heard numbers ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 for this “service,” which involves getting legally married to a U.S. citizen who then applies for permanent residency for the immigrant spouse. (To be clear, Briand and Rodriguez do not and would not arrange such a thing! They has talked to immigrants who looked into it or did it before coming to them for legal help.) Usually (but not always), sham marriages are arranged within a given immigrant community, since the whole point is to convince the government that the marriage is real and that’s harder to do when the spouses don’t speak the same language. The spousal interview can be very probing, so usually the ersatz spouses live together and try to get to know each other ahead of time.

Like all black market options, the sham marriage brings great risk of abuse. The citizen spouse holds great power over the immigrant spouse, which opens the arrangement up to exploitation. If the ruse is revealed, the immigrant not only won’t get a green card, but will likely get deported and never be able to apply for entry again, and might see jail time. One immigrant I talked to was connected by family members to a citizen willing to marry him (for a price, of course). It turned out that the citizen actually fell for him and was more than willing to make the marriage, ahem, “legit.” The immigrant, though, couldn’t stand his new wife—not only was he uninterested in romance with her, he couldn’t bear to be in the same room with her. His family urged him at least to live in the same apartment with her so they would know each other well enough to pass the spousal interview, but he resolutely refused. By dumb luck, he got an interviewer who was either generally cursory or happened to be in a hurry that day, and it all worked out.

In addition to the exploitative fake spouse and the overpriced “Social Security” card, immigrants are subject to a host of other gray market services that can squeeze them for cash and get them no closer to permanent legal residency. NPR’s Latino USA recently reported on non-lawyers offering legal help with promises of residency, which usually result in nothing but money lost.

The most common green card story I’ve encountered is of the legitimate couples who hasten marriage for immigration purposes—a decision that is totally legal. A good friend of mine in high school did this (he was the citizen spouse). That marriage ultimately ended in divorce (well after his wife became a citizen), as did the marriage of another friend, who wed her live-in boyfriend at the time so she could become a citizen, and ultimately got divorced for ordinary, divorcey reasons, many years later. J., another friend who went this route and who remains happily married, agreed to talk with me by email about the process:

First, the basic set-up question: where are you from, and how did you come to be seeking legal permanent residency in the good old U.S. of A.?

I’m an international graduate student, and for the better part of the last decade, I’ve been living in the U.S. on a student visa. My partner (now husband) was born in the U.S. Beginning last year, we knew my visa would expire soon, and I needed to find a way to stay in America so we could stay together. A work visa didn’t seem feasible for me at this stage. I wasn’t planning to try for an academic job, and apart from universities, the common wisdom that I knew was that only well-established companies and institutions will typically sponsor you for a work visa. My training had no immediate path to either.

My partner and I were content with our relationship the way it was, and weren’t planning to marry so soon. In fact, we wanted to buck the trend and never get officially married. But wanting to stay together and knowing what that in this country, a person cannot simply sponsor their girlfriend or boyfriend for a green card, we had to get married. So we did it in the most minimalistic way possible, at our local city hall. When the green card officer later asked us why we had decided to get married, we said exactly this. It worried me a little that we might sound as though we married for the green card only, which a big no-no. But apparently, admitting you married for the green card is fine as long as you emphasize that you needed the green card to stay together. In other words, make it clear that love, not immigration, was your top goal.

By the way, I’d rather not say what country I’m from. Suffice it to say that as far as green cards and U.S. foreign policy are concerned, I think that my fellow countrymen generally have it easier applying for an American green card than people from, say, Iran, but maybe not as easy as people from Canada.

Do you remember what all you costs were? I assume there were fees to be paid to Immigration directly. There must also have been related costs – lawyers, notaries, photos, certified copies of documents, guaranteed shipping. Can you give me a rough breakdown of all the money you spent on the process?

Sure! First, let me just say how intimidated I was by the whole process at first. I’d heard all kinds of terrifying stories about legit couples who’d been delayed or outright denied, whether because of their divergent backgrounds or because the foreign spouse had once belonged to an leftist party in their home country that happened to be called a “communist” party (one USCIS form actually still asks you if you’ve ever belonged to a communist or Nazi party). Of course, the reasons for rejection or delay of green card applications are varied, case-dependent, and ultimately best known to the U.S. immigration regime itself. Immigration frauds are legion in the U.S., and so it is not surprising, even if frustrating, that applicants are assumed to be fraudulent until proven honest. But my case, I’ve been told, is relatively simple. All other things being equal, foreign graduate students studying in the U.S. and married to American graduate students of roughly the same age and life trajectories are generally trusted to be in a real relationship.

If my partner were a middle-aged American businessman and I, a 22 year-old foreign national, things would have looked different. Ditto if we were an Indian-American trying to bring over a spouse from India whom they had barely met, or if I’d been from a super-high-immigration country, or one with a particularly fraught relationship with the U.S.

By the way, good news: as of last year’s demise of DOMA, same-sex partners, too, can apply for both green cards and temporary visas through their American spouses, as long as they were legally married in a country that recognizes same-sex marriage. This is really, really huge. Before then, they could not.

Now, onto the labor involved. The most time-consuming part of the green card process is proving the authenticity of your relationship with your American spouse. Apart from rock-solid evidence like birth certificates of children born to you together (which we don’t yet have), U.S. immigration also cares in particular about your joint financial lives. This means a joint bank account, jointly owned property, joint lease, joint assets, and so on. The assumption is that the higher the financial stake you have in your relationship, the more serious it is – an odd assumption, I think, given that so many married American couples don’t have joint bank accounts! But so it goes; it matters. And the more of these financial intertwinings you have, the better.

Financial proof, one Chicago lawyer told me, is considered hard evidence, whereas third-party affidavits attesting to the legitimacy of your relationship, or vacation photos together, are also necessary but often carry less weight. The key here is “often.” There are fewer blacks or whites with immigration procedures than you might think; it’s all about weighing the entire application in context, and each officer’s personal judgement plays a key role. Still, I hear other countries may care less about joint financial assets. For example, a friend of mine from New Zealand, whose American husband recently got permanent residence there, told me that the Kiwis seemed to care less about joint assets than about joint vacation photos. They had even requested that she submit to them the transcripts of several years of emails and skype chats between her and her partner – a file several inches thick. I never had to submit anything like that to USCIS.

Our costs: predictably, immigration fees are expensive. We sent USCIS the obligatory forms I-130 ($420), I-485 ($985) and a biometrics fee ($85). In addition, we paid $275 for my obligatory medical examination, to prove I don’t have any communicable diseases or suffer from severe mental illness. This amount, though, we paid directly to our local doctor and not to USCIS. In addition, we paid $200 to a lawyer for a half-hour consultation to confirm some questions we had about our particular case.

On whether it helps to get a lawyer: A complicated question. Apart from our half-hour consultation, we didn’t want, and couldn’t afford, to hire a lawyer to do the entire thing for us. A kind university administrator hinted to me that anyone with a relatively straight-forward case who can read and write should be able to do this on their own, instead of paying a lawyer $5000 or more to do it for them. There are also helpful free online forums that you can turn to for guidance, like visajourney.com. But these are not officially sanctioned and many respondents are anonymous. It goes without saying that the quality of information presented there is variable. We generally chose to steer clear of them.

I should add here that personally, I’m not so sure that anyone who can read can also fill out the green card forms correctly without professional help. Despite being accompanied by extensive instruction booklets, the forms still have some irreducibly ambiguous questions, perhaps reflecting several different generations of bureaucratic obfuscation. And the green card government hotline notwithstanding, I believe there is very little useful, free, and credible help available to people in trouble-shooting ambiguous questions. When the stakes are so high, and when even a single error can mess up a person’s application or stall it by months or even years, this seems worrisome.

We were lucky: we are students, and our university’s international students’ office administrators were extremely helpful to us, for free. They sat with us for hours at a time, helping us to interpret the forms in the way the powers that be must have intended—and they knew it all. Without their help, we’d have made many mistakes. For instance, no amount of deductive reasoning or careful reading will enlighten you regarding whether a teaching assistanceship counts as employment according to U.S. immigration, or not. One of their forms implies that it does, but another form implies that it should not, since that would violate your existing student visa. And remember that any inconsistency in your application could delay it by months. Try to figure that one out without an experienced insider or a lawyer.

At the same time, keep in mind that even an expensive immigration lawyer is not a sure ticket to success. Immigration regulations, and their bureaucratic niceties, change often, and not all immigration lawyers are on top of the most minute changes. I am embarrassed to admit that several years ago, I paid a renowned American immigration lawyer $595 for a one-hour consultation regarding my visa status. His most important bit of advice, regarding whether immigration officials can revoke existing visas while another visa application is pending, ended up being wrong. Had I followed his advice, I would have not been able to return to the U.S. and complete my degree. Luckily, I listened instead to my university administrators, who disagreed with him. Months later, when I learned they were right, I emailed him politely to inform him of his error. He thanked me but did not apologize or, god forbid, offer a refund. I was relieved to be able to finish my degree, but mortified that I’d spent all that money for nothing.

Moral of the story: if you prefer to go through an immigration lawyer, and can afford to do so, then you might as well seek out multiple opinions on the tough questions, because immigration law is not cut and dried. Equally good lawyers may disagree, for instance, on how much it helps to have a joint bank account, or whether you can include your parents’ income account towards your own assets on your financial forms. They could both be right or wrong, depending on your particular case and the regional office where your application is going. Also, try to verify any vital piece of advice you get with additional sources of information, like government hotlines and websites, or company/university administrators with experience guiding people through this process. Finally, this is controversial, but if you can, seek out immigration lawyers who practice in high-immigration cities like NYC, Chicago, or San Francisco. Why? Because I’ve repeatedly been told – and have also personally experienced this – that big-city lawyers handle more cases regularly, and therefore are often more likely to know the latest minute changes in bureaucratic procedure. The most banal details matter. Finally, don’t make the mistake I made: don’t go to immigration lawyers who are so famous that they effectively handle few cases on a regular basis and don’t know the lay of the land anymore, even though they claim to.

Anyway, so apart from the forms, the lawyer consultation, and the medical exam, here are our additional costs:

1. Fedexing our application package to USCIS – $60
2. Treating several friends to dinner for being so nice and writing us letters of support (it was a bit of a hassle for them, since they also had to get them personally notarized) – $200
3. Passport photos for us both – $40 (careful, they’re very picky about the dimensions. If you’re 1/8th of an inch off, they’ll make you redo them.)
4. Notarized and translated documents from my home country – $50
5. Birth certificates and marriage certificate copies – $90
6. A huge binder and 100 clear pockets for all our application documents – $10
7. Black and white and color printing of all our vacation photos and wedding photos – $20

Oh, one more thing. One form required my partner to prove he could support me financially on his own, so that I wouldn’t become a burden on the U.S. economy (my feminist self raged at this at first). Surprisingly, the amount of money he had to prove he possessed was low enough that his student stipend alone covered it for both of us – it’s actually close to the poverty line, which varies by state.

All things included, then, we paid about $2,433 for our greencard journey. That’s a lot for us! And it would have been a lot more had we hired a lawyer. By the way, I’m not including here our $2,000 wedding celebration costs, since my parents paid some of that and we would have had one even without the green card, though probably at a later date.

Tell me about the money you wasted on the process. Scams, consultants who you could have done without, fees paid to file the wrong document, etc.

Overall, the whole process was smooth and glitch-free for us, luckily. It all took less than 6 months from start to finish, and I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re both students and that we had good help filling out our forms. I don’t think we wasted much money in the process, unless you count the $200 on dinners for friends a waste… We also didn’t hire a lawyer to do the whole thing for us, but we’ve heard of other couples getting expensive lawyers who did shoddy work. I will admit, though, that the $200 we paid for a consultation we could have probably done without, although we couldn’t have known that in advance. Overall, then, our costs all feel pretty necessary.

On second thought… we spent more money on our wedding than we would have otherwise, because we were brainwashed by some friends into thinking we needed snazzy wedding photos and nice clothes to convince the supposedly traditional visa officers we were a legit couple. I now believe we could gotten married in jeans and sweaters and the visa officers probably would not have cared, but there you have it.

 

Josh Michtom is a public defender in Hartford, Connecticut. He spends way too much of his spare time decorating his children’s school lunch bags.

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39 Comments / Post A Comment

peacheater (#733)

I think getting a green card for my husband and I cost ~$10,000 including an immigration lawyer, application fees etc. We applied using a self-sponsorship category (essentially my husband “proved” that he was an asset to the country because of his research experience), which required a lot of letters from important people in his field and summaries of his work. The lawyer actually was an expert in this sort of thing – taking the technical details of scientists’ work and figuring out how to write letters that would convince the USCIS. It was a pretty complicated process, even though things went relatively smoothly for us – 7 months and $10,000 from student F1 status to Permanent Residents.

peacheater (#733)

And the reason is cost more is basically the expert lawyer (since applying for a green card is more complicated than applying for a green card via marriage), but I think she was totally worth it – she really knew what she was doing.

rhinoceranita (#5,858)

Most people don’t have to think about this at all. My family luckily did this very early on when they were granted asylum in the US. I have family members who have permanent residency but no citizenship papers because citizenship costs are so high.

I’m really, really grateful to the Billfold for exposing its readership to things like this.

bibimu (#7,356)

@rhinoceranita Green card renewal (every 10 years) is $450 and a citizenship application is only $680 and you only have to do it once. To us it was totally worth the one time extra $230 to never have to deal with USCIS again.

rhinoceranita (#5,858)

@bibimu It’s interesting because within an immediate family you can have a natural born citizen, a permanent resident, and a citizen depending on who is getting their shit together to fill out and take the citizenship test.

I think part of it for some of my family is that they are afraid they will fail the test so they spend some time beforehand going to citizenship classes through nonprofit centers geared towards their specific demographic but don’t feel confident pulling the trigger.

Cup of T (#2,533)

Ugh, timely. I have about 9 months left on my F1 student visa and while I’m hopeful about the possibility of getting an employment-related visa after my studies (or moving to a country where I won’t need one!) the marriage-as-path-to-green-card route seems increasingly like a possibility. Except that, like J, I don’t really want to get married… ever. And the idea that I might one day have to do so in order to appease the US government really bums me out :( Bureaucracy!

RiffRandell (#4,774)

Very interesting! I am familiar with the foreign side of immigration, aka people outside of the US applying for visas at embassies so this was a very interesting look. At one of my first jobs I filed rejected applications and can confirm those marriage pictures are important! Saw a lot of interesting photo shopped weddings.

garysixpack (#4,263)

Lawyers? Black market costs? Oh, you’re talking about illegal immigrants!

My parents were legal immigrants. I have no idea what the official fees were, but they were probably cheaper way back in the day. Lawyers? None. They filed their forms, sat in their apartment in Hong Kong, and waited. Black market costs? None. Of course, my parents did not try to stay in the country and work illegally.

Since I was under 18 at the time, I just automatically received my Green Card (which was actually green back then) when my parents got theirs. Cost to me? Zero.

My wife is also a legal immigrant. Official fees? Sure. Lawyer? Her school helped her with the Immigration Practical Training forms. Costs nothing. We filled out the Green Card forms together. So that’s a freebie again. Fake IDs etc.? None, since she was legal the whole way.

When it was time for my wife’s naturalization interview, we brought tax forms and photo albums. The interviewer didn’t bother to look at any of the material, basically said why are you wasting my time, and passed her in 1 minute flat.

Generally things are a lot easier when you follow the law.

Allison (#4,509)

@garysixpack you really think that everyone who would use a lawyer for the green card process is undocumented? Did you even look at the first comment on this article?

@garysixpack Things are also appreciably easier when one has the good fortune to be born in a relatively prosperous democracy, obviating the need to undertake perilous migrations in order to earn enough money to live securely.

@garysixpack Funny how you assume everyone dealing with this process is an illegal immigrant. Guess what! There are LOTS of immigrants who come here on student visas and – gasp! – want to stay in the country after graduating. Very few companies sponsor visas anymore and it’s almost completely up to the individual to navigate the system. So, yes, things may be easier if you follow the law, but plenty of people still need attorneys and incur the expenses that go with them.

@garysixpack Oops, re-read your comment and realized that you addressed this. But, I still stand by my point that not all students have a lot of disposable income to throw at attorneys for green cards. I’m glad that your experience has been so black-and-white easy, but it’s simply not that way for most.

garysixpack (#4,263)

@Josh Michtom@facebook

Things are also appreciably easier when one has the good fortune to be born in a relatively prosperous democracy

Ah, you mean my mom’s family from Mainland China who immigrated here through family reunification. There was one uncle (by marriage) who overstayed his student visa and ended up abandoning his wife and (then) toddler child in China. I heard he ultimately did marry a US citizen and got his Green Card that way, but I’m not that up to date on family gossip. Of course, since my aunt was never divorced, that would make the guy a bigamist.

garysixpack (#4,263)

@avianbonesyndrome
Very few companies sponsor visas anymore and it’s almost completely up to the individual to navigate the system.

I literally know dozens of people who got their Green Cards through work and several for being distinguished scientists. Several of them have even worked for me. Immigration is an issue, but not really something that gets in the way of hiring someone we want.

garysixpack (#4,263)

@Allison
I wonder if peacheater’s husband also had black marketeers fake research articles and letters of recommendation. Probably not.

@garysixpack You miss my point. I took the tone of your comment (maybe wrongly?) to imply that some of the costs I enumerated (and the accompanying difficulties) are the result of illegal immigration, which is, in part, the fault of the people doing it. What I meant to say to you, in response, is that it’s hard to assign blame when so many circumstances and opportunities are defined by the accident of birth. The person I mention who was born in the Soviet Union in the 1970s did no more to earn or deserve legal residency in the U.S. than I did by being born in the U.S. at the same time, and no more so than someone born in, say, Guatemala in 2000.

From the perspective of individual human rights, most laws that govern transnational migration are fundamentally unfair.

Allison (#4,509)

@garysixpack you included lawyers in the costs, and assumed that everyone would have as cheap and easy a path as your wife. Thats’s what I was calling bullshit on.

Aconite (#6,401)

@Josh Michtom@facebook
What do you propose as an alternative? To be clear, I am not blaming anybody for wanting to move to the US (or the UK, where I’m from), nor am I saying that anybody, born here or not, “earns” or “deserves” legal residency, but as far as I can see, a country can’t just accept everybody who wants to go there. The UK has had massive net immigration (both legal and illegal) for many years, mostly to do with free movement rights in the EU. The result is an overburdened healthcare system, a severe housing shortage and, recently, a definite and very angry rightward swing in public opinion, which scared the politicians and led to a draconian crackdown on ANY kind of immigration.

@garysixpack And I know many people who had to go back to their home countries after graduation because companies (mostly investment banks and the big consulting firms) wouldn’t pay the $10-20k extra to sponsor a visa while the person was awaiting permanent residency approval. To be fair, this was late 2008/early 2009 in primarily investment banking. However, my experience is that it companies do not want to sponsor a visa on the way to a green card if they can hire someone who is already a US citizen or permanent resident. This ends up being a catch-22 for a lot of people who want to immigrate legally (and are already in the country on an H1-B) because you need a job to get a green card, unless you fake a marriage or other documents as described in the article, but not many professional firms in my experience will hire someone pre-green card.

@garysixpack “Immigration is an issue, but not really something that gets in the way of hiring someone we want.”

Depending on where you live, immigration can definitely get in the way of hiring someone you want. If you’re a STEM person in the DC area, immigration can *absolutely* be a huge factor in getting a job/hiring someone, because most of the STEM-related jobs involve government contracting somehow.

garysixpack (#4,263)

@avianbonesyndrome

companies (mostly investment banks and the big consulting firms) wouldn’t pay the $10-20k extra to sponsor a visa while the person was awaiting permanent residency approval. To be fair, this was late 2008/early 2009 in primarily investment banking.

So? Like you said, it was 2008/2009. Lots of people (native, foreign, and otherwise) couldn’t find work.

However, my experience is that it companies do not want to sponsor a visa on the way to a green card if they can hire someone who is already a US citizen or permanent resident.

And this a bad thing? Don’t you want a company to hire an American, if one equally qualified can be found to do the job? Heck I’m pretty sure it’s even the law of the land. Tbh I think you are the first person to suggest affirmative action for non-resident aliens.

garysixpack (#4,263)

@avianbonesyndrome

Depending on where you live, immigration can definitely get in the way of hiring someone you want. If you’re a STEM person in the DC area, immigration can *absolutely* be a huge factor in getting a job/hiring someone, because most of the STEM-related jobs involve government contracting somehow.

So move somewhere else. It’s a big country.

@Aconite That’s a good question. Why not have open borders and substantially unlimited immigration, barring only, say, people with serious criminal records or communicable diseases, with the proviso that new immigrants would have to maintain employment for some decent portion of the next two years to remain legally. That way, everyone would be subject to the same wage and hour laws, so immigrants couldn’t beat natives for jobs on the basis of lower salaries and no benefits; immigrants would have an incentive not to work under the table because if they could work legitimately and prove it, they’d be eligible for continued legal status and accompanying government benefits. If economists are to be believed, immigration would naturally taper off once there were no more available jobs. No one would be collecting government benefits who hadn’t been working for a substantial part of the preceding years, so there wouldn’t be an imbalance between immigrants’ input to the economy and their drain on it (there isn’t now either, at least in the US, but I say this to address your concern).

What do you think? Have I solved the immigration problem or what?

Aconite (#6,401)

@Josh Michtom@facebook
So you’re saying you would get rid of categorised immigration (ie spouse visas, working visas, students etc – not what it’s called but I can’t think of a better way to put it!) and just have everyone work to remain in the country? As an idea I like it! But what about people who aren’t going to work – some spouses and all children? How do they stay in the country and how do you deal with the increased numbers in schools? Also, do you define government benefits as healthcare? Here in the UK we have a free healthcare system which IS overburdened by immigration – I am infinitely grateful for it, but anyone can see that it’s creaking along and barely enough for the people already here. Perhaps this isn’t a problem in the US, but here the issue isn’t so much people collecting cash benefits as it is too many people coming and using the healthcare system. Does your vision involve a free healthcare system? If it’s free then how do you support it?
Also, might the sudden huge influx at the START of a new regime like this not have negative consequences for all sorts of things in the country?

cmcm (#267)

This is really interesting, because I’m only really familiar with people marrying to get residency in the UK, where I live. The way it works here is that you can get a spousal visa valid for five years, and then if you’re still married at the end of that time, you can apply for permanent residency. So the first visa is a little bit easier to get (no interviews or medical checks, from what I remember about my friends) and costs £885 ($1493, so exactly the same!). But then you have to apply again for permanent residency five years later which I think costs about the same.

I’m not sure if this process is better or worse? I think it costs more over time, but requiring people to still be married after a few years in order to get permanent residency kind of makes sense to make it more difficult to have a sham marriage.

Aconite (#6,401)

@cmcm
You forgot the bit where the spouse visa is only valid for 2 and a half years and then you have to pay the same £885 again to get it extended to 5 years, at which point you can, surprise!! pay again, this time £1000, to get permanent residency. And if you want to become a citizen, well, that’ll be £550. I am embroiled in this right now and it is one of the most dispiriting experiences of my life.

cmcm (#267)

@Aconite Ah I didn’t realise that! My friends actually got married when it was still 2 year spouse visa –> straight to indefinite leave to remain, before they changed it to five years.

My boyfriend and I have looked into various possibilities when my work visa expires in 2016 (I’m eligible for permanent residency then, but don’t earn enough money anymore to qualify for the route I was on). I think I’ll get a family visa then and then FINALLY ILR in 2017 when I’ll have been here for 10 freaking years already.

Aconite (#6,401)

@cmcm
It’s depressing, isn’t it? The changes the government brought in in 2012 have made it much harder and more expensive to get any kind of visa (the fact that the UK spouse needs to earn >$31,000 to even qualify for the family visa seems nuts to me. Guess the government wants to make sure you can pay the extortionate new fees!) I suppose it’s because of years of people abusing the system – and it truly has been abused in the UK – but people who follow the rules end up paying the price for it.

I really hope everything works out for you and you find a solution that a) lets you stay where you want to and b) doesn’t cost too much, so you can spend your money on really delicious food instead of putting it into David Cameron’s pocket.

garysixpack (#4,263)

@cmcm
I’m only really familiar with people marrying to get residency in the UK, where I live. The way it works here is that you can get a spousal visa valid for five years, and then if you’re still married at the end of that time, you can apply for permanent residency.

Of course fees and dates differ, but it works about the same way in the US. There are also other paths to permanent residency (work, being a distinguished person, family reunification, etc.), but they involve long delays. Josh is writing about the people who want to jump the line and not go through the hassle of applying legally, hence the need for black market fake documents.

cmcm (#267)

@garysixpack No I understand that – the thing I was pointing out is that in the US the process is “get married –> apply for green card” whereas in the UK it’s “get married –> apply for 5 year (previously 2 year) visa –> apply for permanent residency IF you’re still together after that point”.

garysixpack (#4,263)

@cmcm
Fair enough. In the US, you can immediately apply for a Green Card post marriage, but you have to wait–thinking… it’s been a long time–5 years to apply for citizenship. The Green Card by itself gives you the right to live and work in the US, but it does not give you the benefits and rights of a citizen. A Green Card holder, for example, cannot vote and can be kicked out of the country. When does a UK spouse become a full-fledged subject if they only gain permanent residency after 5 years? Can they work while waiting for their 5 years?

cmcm (#267)

@garysixpack Same situation with citizenship, I think it’s 5 years. And you can work and everything during the five years, it’s just the uncertainty that if your marriage doesn’t work out you can’t get permanent residency at the end.

@garysixpack Not necessarily. For some people, the issue is being able to work and eat while waiting in line. For other people, there is no line to jump because there is no possibility or getting legal status.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@garysixpack “Josh is writing about the people who want to jump the line and not go through the hassle of applying legally, hence the need for black market fake documents.”

WHUT. Did you read the same article I read? The one with the grad student from a non-controversial country who married his or her grad student boyfriend and then went through a fairly complicated process where he or she was greatly helped by well-informed university staff, and even then, paid to consult a lawyer? Both resources that are not readily available to all comers.

Let’s step out of this wonderful straw man world with only “bad” line-jumping illegals needing legal consultation and paying huge fees and back into reality, where perfectly law-abiding persons can incur enormous costs and be tripped up by minor mistakes in the labyrinthine bureaucracy that is INS/ICE/USCIS/whatever-next-alphabet-soup-they-choose.

Things can–CAN–be a lot easier when you the law, as they were for you and yours. Hardly a generalizable observation.

(ETA: I tried to channel my inner Dang, really, but this subject hits close and gets me ranty.)

garysixpack (#4,263)

@Josh Michtom@facebook

For some people, the issue is being able to work and eat while waiting in lilinene.

If you are waiting for your green card or work permit, you are not a legal resident here. If you are nevertheless living here and waiting, then you are not here legally.

For other people, there is no line to jump because there is no possibility or getting legal status.

If you are living here without an official immigration status, then you are here illegally.

@garysixpack That’s simply not true. Being a “nonimmigrant” (in the U.S. on a non-permanent visa, with the government’s consent) is different from “being here illegally” (without the government’s consent). It is legally allowable to move from nonimmigrant to immigrant status while in-country; you seem to assume that there’s one “line” for non-natives to get residence in the U.S. that everyone has to wait in and that’s just not the case.

baf (#5,342)

I just got my Canadian Permanent Residency Card in December 2011, and I pretty much have the same story as J., whole process took 13 months (they had a back log unfortunately), and I think total costs were around $2500, and that include getting married. Getting the application together was a bit of pain, but I think having 5 years worth of vacation pictures, plus our wedding pictures, plus being from a “low-risk” immigration country helped with the process. I didn’t have to send anything back or confirm anything again with them! Not sure I would want to do it again, but it’s all over now. Citizenship next!

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