Immigration Visa Process

The Immigration Visa Process and Restrictions

Naema Ahmed, December 2018

Immigrants make up 13.5% of the United States population with new migrants applying for visas each year with hope for a better life. [1] America without a doubt is a country built on immigration with early arrival of settlers from Europe, who built the foundation of the country. Since then the immigration process has evolved, with more rules and regulations being placed on immigration visas. Post 9/11 created the strictest immigration restrictions to date with new agencies and acts. The current administration is looking to continue to reduce and limit the immigration visa as well. These restrictions have barred America from living up to its namesake as a country where all ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures are welcome. The current immigration visa process has placed restrictions for immigrants who are looking to come to the United States by making the process more difficult and introducing proposals for new policies.

What is An Immigrant Visa?

What exactly is an immigrant visa? In short, an immigrant visa is, “issued to a foreign national who intends to live and work permanently in the United States.” [2] There are different forms of visas as well, including work, student, and family immigration visas. Family visas are among the more popular type with citizens using it to bring loved ones from abroad. Another, less popular type of visa are Diversity Immigrant Visas (DV). Despite the variety of visas available it isn’t easy to get one. It can take months or years to be eligible for a visa. Receiving a visa is a process which has multiple steps involved. Currently it’s a four-step process to apply and receive a visa, according to the U.S. Department of State, with each step having its own set of sub-steps.

The visa process is straightforward in writing and applying for a visa isn’t difficult if the steps are followed. The Department of State outlines the steps to be taken when applying for an immigrant visa. The first step starts with the submission of a petition of immigration for a foreign migrant looking to move to the United States: “To apply for an immigrant visa, a foreign citizen must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen relative(s), U.S. lawful permanent resident, or by a prospective employer, and be the beneficiary of an approved petition.” [3] The second step is to begin the petition processing and choosing an agent through the National Visa Center. “Petitions (Forms I-130 and Forms I-140) approved by USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services) in the United States are sent to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) for pre-processing.” [4] The third step is submitting the proper visa application along with required documents to the appropriate US Consulate or embassy. The fourth step is the initial visa interview after the application has been accepted. “A consular officer will interview you and determine whether or not you can receive an immigrant visa.” [5] The current process is straightforward in writing. However, the visa process is more complex than what is stated by the Department of State and other visa pathways can be looked at when an immigrant is intending to migrate.

Diversity Visa Program

Another method as to how immigrants come on visa is the Diversity Visa Program. This system selects and allocates immigrants which the Department of State selects, “Each year, the Department of State conducts a random selection of Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) applicants, based on allocations of available visas in each region and country, from all registered entries.” [6] This program gives a chance to migrants who are unable to receive a visa through the general application process if they don’t have a family member who is an American citizen or legal resident. Similar to the family visa application process, documents are sent to the respective US Embassy and an interview is conducted upon selection. While the lottery system seems like a good idea, it is highly limited. In 2017 more than 22.4 million applied for a diversity visa, but only 50,000 of those individuals are eligible for that visa, making it a highly selective form of gaining a visa. [7] The first restriction is that education and work experience is required. A highly skilled worker, such as an engineer, has a better chance of passing the application screening than someone with a less professional job. “You should not continue with your DV application if you do not meet the qualifying education or work experience requirements explained below. You will not be issued a visa, and any fees you pay will not be refunded.” [8] This creates a definite restriction which prevents people who have the education but not the work experience from immigrating. Secondly, the applicant must be from a country which “sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. over the previous five years.” [9] This bans immigrants from populous countries, such as India or China, from even attempting to apply for the visa. In terms of family immigration, this continues to create a separation between loved ones. As previously stated, only immediate family members are eligible for a petition and sponsorship by a US citizen or legal resident. With certain countries being barred from applying for diversity visas, the challenge continues for loved ones to be reunited and skilled workers to further their careers.

The Issue with the Current Visa Process

The visa process has put restrictions on who is deemed eligible, limits the number of visas allowed per year, and adds extra steps to meet certain criteria. First, eligibility is dependent on the visa type. For family visas, only immediate family members, such as spouses or children, qualify. The second restriction keeps a limit on the number of visas which can be given each year and treats who is able to get one as a lottery system. There is preference on who can immigrate and a small window of time for that migrant to apply for a visa. For example, unmarried children of US citizens get first preference, while married children of citizens get third preference, and the latter having less time to submit an application than the first preference. [10] This creates separation for families attempting to migrate together and, in a way, makes one group less important than the other. The preference system also puts longer wait times for those who third or fourth preference, making it harder for a family to come together.

Post 9/11: New Agencies and RAISE Act

The application process became restrictive due to risks of potential terror threats from overseas and internally post 9/11. The current process is designed to protect residents and citizens of America and keep out migrants who would be deemed a threat to the nation. After 9/11 the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was introduced. This act led to the creation of three agencies; Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). [11] They were created to protect the sanctity of America and act as anti-terrorism control. At the same time, the new agencies cracked down on the visa application process by implementing ‘entry controls’. [12] They were rules which required additional documentation and use of data to determine who may be a threat. For example, “In 2004, DHS (Department of Homeland Security) officially rolled out US-VISIT, a program that requires the capture of biometric data (digital fingerprints and photographs) of foreign nationals at visa-issuing overseas posts and at ports of entry in the United States.” [13] Using such a method can affect personal security by recording and storing an immigrant’s data, which potentially turns away non-citizens. Methods used right after 9/11 created an atmosphere where immigrants were not welcome.

The current White House Administration has been following suit with the agencies to restrict immigration visas. The Trump Administration is working towards placing harsher policies to limit family immigration. In early 2018 the White House announced the possibility of reducing family-based immigration visas. Donald Trump stated, “Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.” [14] This will completely remove the chance for other relatives, such as parents or cousins, to be able to immigrate. By adjusting the current system in place for immigration visas, immigrants who are legally eligible to come to the US won’t be able to based on the new system. Individuals who are thinking about bringing their parents or siblings through a petition and sponsorship will be unable to. In early 2017 the proposal of a new policy was introduced, which is known as the RAISE Act. It stands for Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy and is designed to slash the immigration visas allowed per year. [15]

“Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, we will have so many more benefits. It will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class.” [16] – President Trump February 28, 2017

Some of the benefits Trump sees from the policy are: it will completely replace the current visa system with one that recognizes the merits and skills of an immigrant. It will end the possibility of immigration for extended family, eliminate the Diversity Visa program and limit permanent resident status for refugees to 50,000 individuals per year. [17]

The adoption of such a policy will make it harder for immigrants to migrate to the United States and puts a burden on Americans themselves. According to Trump, the policy is supposed to help economic growth, but the reality is that the policy will reduce the number of skilled immigrant workers who can come into the country. The idea is to safeguard jobs for citizens but could take away from an immigrant who lives in America on visa. [18] While it eliminates the need for the Diversity Visa and family preference it highly restricts immigration visas and lessens the chances of an immigrant coming to America.

Immigrants have fought hard to be able to have a place in America. The visa process is a key aspect as to how many immigrants have legally come to the US. By restricting the visa process, immigrants have encountered issues, such as families being separated due to preference on visa, denying opportunities for highly skilled workers, and a sense of dignity being stripped from people trying to apply. Immigrants migrate for many reasons, but one reason is for a better life and brighter future. Having harsher restrictions, such as a merit-based or preference system on immigration visas stalls immigrants who can help make America greater. Rather than tightening America’s borders, we should welcome and help immigrants who will benefit the country. By doing so we can make America a better place for immigrants and citizens alike.



[1] Geiger, Abigail. “Key Findings about U.S. Immigrants.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 30 Nov. 2018,

[2] “Requirements for Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Visas.” USCBP, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 3 Jan. 2018,

[3] “Immigrant Visa Process.” Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State,

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] “Diversity Visa Program.” Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State,

[7] Connor, Phillip. “US Diversity Visa Lottery Saw near-Record Number of Applicants in 2017.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 23 Aug. 2018,

[8] Diversity Visa Program.” Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State,

[9] Connor, Phillip. “US Diversity Visa Lottery Saw near-Record Number of Applicants in 2017.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 23 Aug. 2018,

[10] Visa Bulletin for October 2018.” Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State, Oct. 2018,

[11] “Post-9/11.” USCIS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,

[12] “9/11 And the Transformation of U.S. Immigration Law and Policy.” American Bar Association, American Bar Association, 7 Mar. 2012,

[13] ibid

[14] Burnett, John. “Immigrants Are Scrambling To Submit Petitions For Family Members To Come To U.S.” NPR, NPR, 16 Feb. 2018, come-to-u-s.

[15] “President Donald J. Trump Backs RAISE Act.” The White House, The United States Government, 2 Aug. 2017,

[16] ibid

[17] ibid

[18] ibid


Further Reading

Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half,” New York Times, 17 Aug. 2017.

RAISE Act Is DACA Poison Pill,” Forbes, 18 Sep. 2017.

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