"I'm wondering if there are special immigration laws for certain countries and certain individuals. I would like for you to address all the ways other nationalities seem to take advantage of the immigration laws of the U.S.”
This week’s questioner enclosed an article from a newspaper in the upstate New York region about the naturalization process, specifically about a native of India who has lived in the U.S. for the past 22 years, and recently became a U.S. citizen.
The piece quoted statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service: “Asia is the leading continent of birth among people naturalizing. Forty-two percent of new citizens naturalized during 2004 and 2005 were born in Asia . . . Mexico was the leading country of birth among people who naturalized in 2004 to 2005. More than 63,000 Mexicans became U.S. citizens during this period.”
So, are there special naturalization laws for Mexicans or Asians, or any other ethnic group? The answer is no. But certainly, there are reasons for tens of thousands of Asians/Mexicans naturalizing in comparison to the Ireland, which probably saw a few hundred – if that many – become U.S. citizens during the same period.
First and foremost, Ireland is a country with a population of four million. Compare that with Mexico (population more than 110 million), and Asia (billion-plus), and it’s easy to see that Irish applicants for naturalization (or any other U.S. immigration benefit) would hardly cause a blip because they cannot compete in numbers. It’s not that other ethnic groups are being favored, but that their populations are so large that smaller nations such as Ireland get overwhelmed in comparison.
In order to naturalize, an applicant must first clock a period of permanent residency in the U.S. (five years, or three if married to an American citizen). Permanent resident status can be acquired either through a close relative, skilled employment or the annual diversity visa lottery.
Immigration is governed by annual numbers (except for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, who can apply in unlimited numbers.) Each year the law sets aside a minimum of 226,000 for family members, 140,000 for employment-based applications, and 50,000 for the lottery. Given the huge numbers of people wishing to immigrate, demand far outstrips supply.
And simply put, tiny Ireland cannot compete with the likes of massive Mexico. For the fiscal year ended 2005, Irish applicants received 2,088 green cards. Mexicans – yes, many of them do immigrate legally! – were granted 161,445.
As far as the diversity lottery goes, the stats are equally poor with regard to Ireland, with only a handful of visas being awarded annually. The bigger the country, the more visas the country gets simply because so many more people apply.
One other point to note about the Irish and U.S. naturalization. Traditionally, the Irish have been one of the nationalities with the lowest rates of naturalization. Some Irish green card holders have said that they would feel “less Irish” if they became American, so they hang on to their green cards forever.
Citizens of other nations know that the way to keep the line of immigration open is to naturalize as soon as possible. U.S. citizens can sponsor foreign relatives much quicker and easier, but it takes years for permanent residents to do the same, and the options for doing so are greatly limited.
Ultimately unless some sort of bilateral arrangement is put in place which would allow Irish citizens access to a set number of visas each year – the U.S. has such deals with countries such as Australia and Singapore – the Irish will always struggle to gain legal access to the U.S.