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Since You Asked: Legal immigration easy as pie

Can you cut through all the hot air on immigration and explain exactly how one can become a legal immigrant in the United States? I keep hearing that it's easy to become a legal immigrant, so why don't illegal immigrants do it the legal way?

— John A., Medford

If the Web site at uscis.gov (the Web site of the federal agency formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now called U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) is any indication, it's tougher than trying to understand the federal tax code. That Web site is a rabbit-trail infested disaster.

For example, the page that says in plain English "How Do I Become a Lawful Permanent Resident While in the United States?" has handy subheadings addressing questions like "Who is Eligible?" with the unhelpful answer "To find out who may apply for permanent residence in the United States, please see eligibility information." OK, where do we find that? We couldn't, at least not without rooting around for about an hour.

Under "How Do I Apply?" is "To find out how you can apply to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States, please click here to see Application Procedures" ... but there's no clickable link, and no path anywhere on the page to that info.

Luckily, there are any number of other Web sites from advocates on both sides of the immigration jihad to confuse us even further. So sifting through the rubble at the USCIS site and poring over the Immigration and Nationality Act, here's what we found on how to immigrate legally:

  • Through a family member (son, daughter, parent or husband/wife) who is a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen and who can provide the immigrant financial support at 125 percent of the poverty level. Apply for a visa number, and if granted, wait until one becomes available through a preference system unless your sponsor is a citizen and you are an immediate family member, in which case no waiting period for a visa number is required.
  • Through an employer sponsor: This is open only to "high-priority" candidates in research, medicine, athletics, arts, education, computers, engineering and business — otherwise, highly skilled workers and special workers (foreign religious workers or employees of the U.S. government abroad).
  • Diversity visa program: The U.S. grants 55,000 immigrant visas through a lottery to people who come from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
  • By investing $500,000 to $1 million in establishing a new commercial enterprise in the U.S.
  • Marry a U.S. citizen named on an approved fiancé petition within 90 days of arriving in the U.S.
  • Be granted asylum or refugee status.

Any way you look at it, it's a tedious process that can require a substantial investment of time and money — it appears to cost a minimum of $1,000 in fees to file the forms, and possibly hundreds more depending on your situation.

Low-skill immigrants seeking blue-collar type work are at the bottom of the preference heap and the top of the fee schedule, so therein lies the problem. There are good reasons on both sides to be upset about the illegal immigration situation, and our political leaders appear to be only muddying the waters. But make no mistake, it is not easy to become a legal U.S. resident.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501.