What Should You Know About Legally Coming to the U.S.?

There are so many reasons a person might want to come to the U.S. from elsewhere in the world. Some people come with the hope of a better future and they will often work to send money to their relatives overseas while also building a life in America. Other people are hired for a specific job with a U.S. company and come here for that work. Others might come to the U.S. to join family who already live here.


While there are many opportunities that come along with living in the United States, it can be a challenge to get here. While the topic of illegal immigration is one that is often discussed at the political level, what about legal immigration? What should people know in general about coming to the U.S. legally?

The Paths

There are quite a few different paths that someone might take if they want to come to the U.S. One option is family-based immigration. This is the most common route people take. Citizens of the United States and legal residents can bring their spouses or fiances, and they can also bring unmarried children. Under family-based immigration, it’s also possible to sponsor adult siblings and parents.

Work visas are another common way people come to the U.S. Employers will often sponsor foreign workers if they have specialized and in-demand skills if they aren’t able to find someone who’s qualified in the U.S. There are different types of work visas. One is the H1B visa, often utilized in Silicon Valley.

Other options include student visas and the visa lottery.

Asylum Seekers

Coming to the U.S. legally is also done through what’s called asylum seeking. In this process, people can go to a U.S. port of entry. If they have been persecuted in their home country for reasons such as their race, their religion or their political opinions they may be eligible to seek asylum. If you want to come to the U.S. for the same reasons but you’re outside of the U.S. when you’re seeking protection, you’re a refugee in the legal sense.

Family-Sponsored Visas

While family-sponsored visas are one of the most common ways to come to the U.S., these visas are also limited. The limitations are primarily based on your country of origin. If you were to apply to come to the U.S. from a country where few people apply for a U.S. visa through family sponsorship, the process may be easier for you. Then, there are some countries where the number of applicants is very high so it can take longer. Some of these countries include China, Mexico and India.

To give an example of country quotas—only 26,000 people can come from Mexico to the U.S. legally each year. However, there are 1.3 million people from Mexico on the waiting list.


Finally, while you can come to temporarily study or work in the U.S. under certain temporary visa programs, actually staying, living and working in the U.S. are much more challenging processes. You would need a green card, and that’s the only way to legally become a U.S. citizen at some point.