Report: Pathway to Residency not a Straight one

The Public Policy Institute of California released a report on Wednesday analyzing the path that immigrants take to becoming legal permanent residents. Here are some excerpts from the report's press release:

The report finds that rather than being new arrivals, most immigrants have lived in the United States for some time when they get their green cards, the official identification of a legal permanent resident.

“The public debate about immigration can be so simplistic,” says Laura Hill, PPIC research fellow, who co-authored the report with PPIC research associate Joseph Hayes. “Immigrants are characterized as either legal or illegal. But it’s more complicated. It’s very common for immigrants to move from illegal to legal status. It’s also common for them to move from legal to illegal if they overstay a visa.”

The report is based on a representative survey of immigrants who became legal permanent residents in the United States in 2003. This information is more detailed and rich than typical federal data on the foreign-born. Among its findings:

  • Fewer than four in 10 (38%) legal permanent residents were new to the United States when they got their green cards and many had lived here illegally for at least some time. In the United States, about four in 10 (42%) first lived in the country illegally. This group was more evenly divided between those who crossed the border illegally (20%) or violated their visa terms (22%).
  • In the U.S. overall, immigrants who crossed the border illegally before becoming legal permanent residents were likely to be less educated and less proficient in English than recent permanent residents overall, but they were much more likely to be currently employed (72% vs. 56%). Immigrants who had violated the terms of their visas before becoming legal permanent residents were more educated, more likely to speak English well or very well, and also more likely to be currently employed than recent legal permanent residents overall (66% vs. 56%).
  • In the nation as a whole, the pathways that immigrants – whether legal or illegal – took to legal residency differed significantly according to their home countries. Those who came from Asia and the Pacific were more likely to be new arrivals to the U.S. (53%). Those who came from Latin America and the Caribbean were more likely to have crossed the border illegally (41%) than immigrants from other regions. Those who violated their visa terms at some point before getting green cards were more likely to have come from the Mideast/North Africa (31%) or Europe/Central Asia (27%).
  • You can click here to download the entire report in PDF format.