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With the end of Title 42, America is once again able to provide a path for those seeking refuge from persecution in their home countries, but those who immigrate legally continue to face significant barriers, further fueling the immigration emergency at our southern border.
Title 42 was created as part of the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which was intended to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases. It was invoked during the pandemic to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and ultimately enabled U.S. border officials to turn away migrants and asylum seekers at the border on public health grounds. Title 42 was lifted by the Biden administration on May 11, but significant challenges remain, driving many to attempt to enter the country illegally.
America has traditionally thrived when we welcome migrants into the country. Countless studies have found that immigrants fuel the American economy, improving the productive capacity of the nation as a whole and adding between $36 billion and $72 billion to the country’s annual gross domestic product — gains that ultimately benefit the existing population. Furthermore, our legal immigration system is set up to emphasize family reunification; maintaining a legal pathway ultimately helps strengthen family relationships.
For those seeking to enter the country legally there are two primary visas to choose from and, assuming your application is approved, the type you apply for determines the type of entry and stay you have in the country. Immigrant visas are intended for foreign nationals who want to live and work in the country permanently, whereas non-immigrant visas are designated for foreign nationals who want to stay in the country on a temporary basis.
If you enter the United States on a non-immigrant visa and then change your mind, you typically have a very limited window of time to complete the necessary steps that would permit a longer stay. It’s also important to keep in mind that U.S. immigration agencies at every level are struggling to manage significant backlogs, and it’s not uncommon for visas to take months, if not years, to obtain.
But even these well-established processes do not exist in a vacuum, and the experience of those seeking to immigrate is subject to constantly shifting cultural, political and economic circumstances. Laws pertaining to legal immigration requirements are constantly changing; additional restrictions based on an immigrant’s country of origin can arise at any time; and the ability for immigrants to obtain employment often depends on market forces beyond their control.
These challenges are in addition to significant language and cultural barriers — such as prejudice, lack of relevant knowledge and experience, lack of knowledge about the job market — that can make it hard to obtain employment, even among those with work permits. The intermingling of all of these forces, along with the unique challenges specific to each intending immigrant, can make the system nearly impossible to navigate alone, and serves to drive more illegal border crossing.
The U.S. immigration system is complicated and extremely nuanced — and the outcome for applicants in very similar situations can differ dramatically based on their approach. Along with constantly changing rules, regulations and documentation requirements, intending immigrants face a lot of challenges unique to their specific situation.
Streamlining the legal immigration process could have a far-reaching positive impact. A smoother legal immigration process could benefit not only immigrants themselves, but also the country as a whole, by reducing court backlogs and increasing the size of the workforce — which is especially crucial given America’s current labor shortage.
But, because of the current, especially onerous, system, most people seeking legal immigration can benefit from the assistance of a trained professional. Law firms like Marble are designed to work with intending immigrants to help them navigate the system, explore their options, and advise them on the best path forward.
America is a country founded by immigrants, and one that continues to rely on their contributions, yet the barriers they face are many. Though their pathway into the country legally is complex, ever changing and filled with bureaucratic hurdles, there is help available to those who choose to come to the country through the legal channels.
Anisa Thobhani is a lawyer specializing in immigration issues at the Marble law firm in Richmond, Texas.