416,000 Legal Immigrants, Who and From Where?

With the Federal Government lawsuit against SB1070, Arizona’s Immigration Bill, there is much focus on illegal aliens in the United States.  While illegal immigration is (obviously) illegal, we must remember that immigrants founded America. Which left me wondering…who is the average legal immigrant currently entering the US?


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that 15 percent of all persons becoming Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) in the United States in 2009 were born in Mexico. China was second with 5.7 percent, and then the Philippines (5.3 percent), India (5.1 percent) and the Dominican Republic (4.4 percent) finished out the top five.  Those countries alone accounted for 35 percent of all new LPRs in 2009.

The five states with the largest percentage of immigrants gaining LPR status were California (20 percent), New York (13 percent), Florida (11 percent), Texas (8.4 percent) and New Jersey (5.2 percent). The majority of new LPRs in 2009 were female (55 percent), the median age was 31 years old and more than half were married.

LPR status grants foreign nationals the right to reside in the US permanently but, to become an American citizen they must go through naturalization. Of those naturalized in 2009, Mexico was the leading country of birth (15 percent), California was the leading state of residency (24 percent), the median age was 40, and two-thirds were married and 53 percent were female.

In 2009 an archetypal LPR, therefore, was a married 31-year-old Mexican female who lives in California. The typical naturalized citizen was a 40-year-old married female born in Mexico and living in California. In the same year, the average illegal immigrant was a Mexican Male between the ages of 25-44 also residing in California according to the DHS. With the large population of Mexican nationals granted LPR and later becoming naturalized US citizens, Mexico is still outspoken against the Arizona law. 


BusinessWeek reports that remittances are “Mexico’s No. 2 source of foreign income after oil exports.” A remittance is money sent by mail, usually in the form of a gift. Mexico is the world’s third largest recipient of remittances (behind only India and China). BusinessWeek also reports that the amount of money migrant workers sent home in the first half of 2010 fell 4.1 percent compared with the same period last year. Remittances totaled $10.63 billion in the first six months, down from $11.1 billion in the first half of 2009. Therefore, stricter policies against illegal immigration in America would negatively impact Mexico’s economy. This perhaps explains Mexico’s vehement protest against SB1070.

Ben Edgeson, an immigrant from England, has first hand experience with the process of becoming a LPR. From start to finish, it took Edgeson a total of 4 months and $1500 to receive his green card. While he thinks the US immigration process was superfluous at times, he said, “I commend them on having such a tough process to go through.”

The US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services do not play favorites when it comes to the country of origin. Edgeson was surprised to be treated with the same scrutiny as immigrants from other countries. “For the English I thought they might go a bit easier on us… but no,” he said.

Immigrants to America fall into three categories: family sponsored, employment based, and diversity.  Of the 416,000 immigrants granted LPR status in 2009, only 50,000 were chosen based on country of origin. Immediate relatives of United States citizens – spouses, children and parents of adult U.S. citizens aged 21 and over – account for more than 40 percent of the annual LPR flow.


Edgeson also points out one major flaw in the system. “All during this process I’m not allowed to work yet, until I get a green card or permission to work,” he said. For an immigrant without some sort of family income this could be a major problem. Edgeson said, “They have to work illegally If they were gonna feed their families. They’ve got to wait for permission to work legally and it’s taken so long.” Such a dilemma does not seem to be a deterrent to those wanting to migrate to America, but it may contribute to the hiring of illegal workers for less than minimum wage.

So why do so many immigrants choose to endure the long process to receive a green card every year? As Edgeson said, “It’s easy to fall in love with the place… I mean who wouldn’t want to live here really?” I could not agree more.

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