Immigration (to put it bluntly) is the movement of people, from their native country to another country in search of a better life. For most people, the search for a better life is their biggest motivation to relocate. Other reasons exist (such as family reuniting), but, for the most part, people leave their countries because they are terrible places to live. These factors bear the brand ‘push factors’ and they include: (but not limited to) conflicts and war, natural disasters and a search for a better economic landscape. The United States (US) is arguably the most popular destination for immigrants. The notion that one can work hard and become rich is an ideal for which many would be willing to leave their ancestral home. However, due to security reasons, the immigration process is complex and acutely sensitive. This essay will examine the process, with particular preference to Hispanics and Africans and ultimately, immigration itself
As explained, an immigrant cannot just stroll into the US. There is a process and it begins with the application of a visa. A US Visa is a document gifted by a US consulate office that allows one to travel into the US and if needs be, apply for admission as a legal permanent resident (LPR). For Africans and Hispanics, concerning visa application, they have two options. There is the travel visa and the immigrant visa. The travel visa provides the holder with just that; consent to voyage and stay in the US for a specific reason and period. It does not give the right to live or work in US. Under the travel category, there is the US Tourist Visa class (B2). This type of visa has the nickname ‘visitor for pleasure’ visas although they cover people visiting the country for health reasons, family reunion, short study courses, or tourists. Tourist class visas are issued for duration of between one and ten years, allowing the person multiple entries during their stipulated timeline.
The other (in the travel category) is the US Business Class (B1), known as a ‘visitor for business’ visa. It allows the individual entry into the US for a period of up to 6 months for them to conduct their business and leave. For Africans and Hispanics (anyone wishing to go to the US), there is a petition process for a visa. In essence, the process is designed to assess the level of intent in giving up their native country residence. It also appraises that the individual has sufficient means to support themselves during their tenure and capable of leaving the US upon expiry of the visa. So what happens if one does not want to leave?
That individual has the option of an immigrant visa. The application for a US Immigration Visa (and all visas) takes place at an American Embassy, US Consulate, or at an application center for visas in the respective country. There, an immigration inspector from the US customs and border protection (an affiliate of the Department of Homeland Security) makes the final decision whether one can be an LPR. Once an immigrant receives approval and obtains the tag LPR, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sends the lucky individual their resident card (green card) to their address in the US. However, as mentioned earlier, the process is more intricate than it appears on paper.
For starters, to meet the ‘immigrant visa’ eligibility threshold, one must be ‘sponsored’ by a US citizen, an LPR, or a prospective employer. The sponsor commences the immigration process by filing a petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), on the immigrant’s behalf. The USCIS must approve the petition, before the Immigrant Visa Application process. Once this takes place, the petition heads to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC), where visa processing begins. Processing incorporates the collection of visa fees and documents from the sponsors and the immigrant visa applicant. This part is not a guarantee. Meaning, even though USCIS approves a petition, the immigrant visa may be elusive for a myriad of reasons. Primarily, the US laws cast a limitation on the availability of visas (in certain categories i.e. employment-based or family) per country. Here lays a conundrum for Africans.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program, allocates immigrants for countries with low levels of immigration to the US. The DV program has been the biggest avenue for Africans to immigrate to the US. However, due to speculative legislative changes in the US, the immigration of Africans to the US may suffer a profound 25% decrease. Ironically, Hispanics (who come from countries with a rich immigration history) are set to continue benefitting from the immigration process.
Estimated, 41 million Americans are immigrants. Immigrants from Africa comprise about 4% while about 36% are from Mexico and Central America (with 8 % from Central America and 28 % from Mexico). Curiously, 15 % of the world population lives in Africa while 3.6 percent lives in Mexico and Central America combined (2% in Central America and 1.6 % in Mexico). Ergo, America has nine times as many immigrants from Central America and Mexico compared to all of Africa, never mind that four times as many people live in Africa as in Central America and Mexico combined. The irony ensues in the backdrop of the fact that Africans are more likely to pass through the immigration route legally as compared to their Hispanic colleagues. It makes very little sense to sever the African Immigrant quota and appear to prejudice the Hispanic quota.
In addition, according to the DHS and Migration Policy Institute, African adult immigrants were more likely to obtain (or already have) college degrees than native-born Americans or Hispanics. Similarly, the Africans were more likely to participate in labor force than other immigrants of the same gender were or native-born Americans were. There is an apparent disparity. A discrepancy, unfortunately, explained by politics.
African immigrants tend to vote for the Democrat party (the current half-African president’s party). Unfortunately for the said African immigrant, his/her vote is not as valuable as compared to his/her Hispanic colleague’s vote. The African immigrants are fewer than the Hispanics and those who live in the US, live in states that are not ‘swing states.’ In contrast, the number of Hispanic voters has grown significantly in numbers and influence. Most importantly, Hispanic voters also tend to favor Democrats. 1.4 million more Hispanics voted in the 2012 presidential election than in 2008, and 3 million more Hispanics voted in 2008 than in 2004. In 2012, Hispanics voted 71% for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate and 27 % for the Republican Party. Therefore, ‘legalizing’ millions of Hispanic illegal immigrants by executive action, will considerably benefit the Democratic Party. The Hispanics have political value. Unfortunately, the Africans do not.
Such is the unfortunate truth that plagues the immigration landscape. Never mind the process itself is borderline offensive for most Africans. It does not help that Africa’s stereotype portrays a land, rife with diseases, poverty, and war. A perception, into which all Africans find themselves herded into, materializes. As articulated, the LPR visa is an excruciating process. A family, an LPR, or a prospective employer must sponsor an individual. Meaning (for an African) one must have a family in the US to begin with, know someone who is an LPR, or manage to get employment in a prejudicial economic landscape. Secondly, they must raise and pay an application-processing fee, regardless of the fact that they may not afford it. Finally, they venture into the rigorous screening process.
An African (and a Hispanic) must prove their financial stability, moral grounding, ideal health, and an absence of a criminal record. All these under the ‘African stereotype’ lens. For Hispanics, they are faced with the same hurdles but the race is so much tougher for the Africans. Hispanics, speculatively, have relatives in the US so for them that is not such a big problem. In addition, their proximity to the US makes it easier for them to venture into the US (legally or illegally). Further, (as explained) there is a political prejudice that favors their existence in the US.
However, visa applications still take place and people still want to migrate, regardless of the difficulty. The curious question then becomes who are these people and why do they feel the need to leave?
The people migrating are mostly the young, because the dominant motive for moving is economic. America and other ‘pull’ countries promise better wages and better economic opportunities. Brain drain is prolific in Africa as a result. For Hispanics, economic pull factors boil down to a greater demand for labor. For instance, Mexicans and individuals from Central American countries, migrate into the US for low-wage, long-hour jobs in farming, construction, and domestic labor.
Immigration, as phenomenon, is as old as humanity itself. Throughout history, people have been known to move in the search of greener pastures. However, continual study of the phenomena helps us understand and predict immigration patterns but more importantly, it helps illuminate social ills that may be inherent in the immigration process and unwittingly, protect the sacred human rights of individuals.