America still lives up to its name, The Land of Opportunities. The third largest country on the planet, the United States of America, with its 329,256,465 people (a July 2018 estimate), is a melting pot of cultures, languages, and traditions. As a young country, founded on July 4, 1776, it is made up mainly of immigrants. Half of the residents in the top 5 largest cities speak a foreign language at home. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, 20% of Americans speak a second language (other than English) with their families, at home, with some 40 million Spanish speakers.
How hard is it to move to America? It’s a lot easier than you think and there are at least 9 doors that you can open, however, with the new travel ban in place, US embassies have refused more than 37,000 applications in 2018. And since the Mexico wall has been under construction, our country didn’t lose its appeal. Over 304,000 people have been caught crossing the border illegally in 2017. In April 2019, the total number of apprehensions at the Southwest border was 109,144 as revealed by the US Customs and Border Protection. The numbers speak for themselves – the American lifestyle is still appealing and the American Dream is alive and well. And if you feel like there’s nothing holding you back from making the big step, here you’ll find how to immigrate to the USA legally.
Largest expat communities in the USA
America’s borders are not easy to cross and President Donald Trump managed to get his message across. Though America embraces multiculturalism, it has to remain safe at all costs. Multiculturalism has its sweet and sour parts but sometimes it can get bitter. That’s why migrants from the same geographical region clump and form large expat communities. For example, most Hispanics come from Mexico and they form large communities such as the one in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim region in California, with 4.6 million Mexicans or Houston with 1.75 million (Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends, 2016).
Since the year 2000, the Asian population has grown by more than 70% to over 20 million people in 2015. About 5 million Chinese people live in the US. Chinese workers started to arrive in the second part of the 19th century, and following a ban on Chinese immigration, they formed their own communities known as Chinatowns. The largest Chinatown by population is in San Francisco, while the largest one by area is in New York. In fact, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles host 44% of the Chinese population. Chinatowns do facilitate transition and integration for newcomers, but today, these neighborhoods are more diverse.
India, on the other hand, as the second largest country on the planet, accounted for only 4 million expats in 2015. Indians remain the second largest group, followed by Filipino migrants at 3.8 million. Vietnamese people can be found clustered in the Orange County, Cubans in Miami, Arab-Americans in Detroit. So, as you can see, each region is very ethnically diverse and when you first arrive in the US, you want to be surrounded by other people from your country who can help you overcome the culture shock.
Of the 1.12 million people who received a “green card” in 2017, 37% came from Asia, 36% from North America, 10% from Africa, 7% from Europe, 7% from South America.
The Visa Waiver Program
Residents in 28 countries can now travel without a visa to the United States for leisure or business, but they must leave the country in 90 days. Overstaying your tourist visa is not the best way to move to the USA. Sooner or later you will have to leave the country for whatever reason and at the border, they’ll inform you that you may not put your feet on US soil ever again. Upon arrival, you receive Form I-94 which lets you know how long you can stay.
So, if you live unlawfully in the US for 180 days or more but less than a year and leave before deportation is initiated, you are barred from reentering the US for three years. If you accrue more than 365 days of unlawful presence in the US and leave after this period or before any formal procedures are instituted against you, you get a 10-year interdiction subsequently. The more you live illegally, the more you risk being deported and permanently prohibited from entering the US.
The following countries are part of the Visa Waiver Program:
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
Nevertheless, before boarding a US-bound flight, travelers must have the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The purpose of travel must also match the ones specified for a B type visa ( a business meeting, a holiday, training or course). After a short trip to the New World, you can decide if moving to the USA is the right thing for you and your family. As we all know, though, appetite comes with eating. If you feel like you have no reason to return home, then moving to the USA is for the better.
Moving to the USA in three easy steps
Having such a diverse population means that many expats have family and friends in their native countries. One way to shorten the distance would be to bring them in the US if they have already managed to secure a job and a home loan for their dream house. Long-distance moves are always stressful, so having an outline of the process could help. For those living outside the United States, here are the three steps they have to follow:
- Get a green card
- Buy or rent a house
- Find a job
- Get a green card
Getting a US visa in your passport is a lot harder now and is not enough to start a life here. Last year, 37,000 visa applicants were refused – 37 times more than in 2017. However, if you are a student, you can obtain a temporary J1 visa for work and travel. You can test the waters and test-drive the American lifestyle for three months. And you know the story… If you have a cute accent, you can find the love of your life here.
Getting married to a US citizen is among the easiest ways to get your hands on a green card, especially if you exceeded the term specified in Form I-94 or if your visa has expired. Only marry someone for love and not for such a materialistic reason like a piece of paper. With genuine love, you can build a strong marriage and fully enjoy all that the US citizenship has to offer.
Moving to the USA is a lot easier if you have sponsorship from a family member. It all starts with the filing of Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) with USCIS, but 9% of petitions are rejected and many more denied. Processing can also take a lot of time. There are more eligibility categories so you may want to verify your situation here: https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/eligibility-categories
Alternatively, you may find an open position for a rare specialization or jobs that nobody wants, so a company would sponsor you by filing Form I-140. If you work for a large US-based multinational/corporation, you may be taken by surprise by a company transfer as well.
Student visas are also great opportunities. However, you can only change an F1 visa with a green card by getting married to a US citizen. And since 2013 this has been valid for same-sex marriages, too.
Asylum-seekers or refugees can apply for a green card one year after they’ve been admitted in the US. Other special immigrants are religious workers who come to work for a nonprofit religious organization, journalists, Afghan and Iraqi translators for the U.S. government.
You may have heard about the green-card lottery or diversity immigrant visa program, too. Applying for the green-card lottery is the equivalent of filing an immigrant petition. 50,000 winners are chosen each year from different regions of the globe. The fewer immigrants from your country, the higher chances to win the lottery. In fact, the list of countries who qualify for this program changes every year. Applicants must also have at least a high-school diploma or an equivalent, or two years of work experience in a job position that requires at least two years of training.
Those wishing to apply for DV-2020 program had to submit their application by November 6, 2018, and the results have been published in May, this year. Only one entry per individual is allowed, so don’t send your application twice, or you will be disqualified. However, you may apply for each session, which means that if you don’t win this year, you can try your luck next year. If you win, you can take your spouse with you, and your kids as well, if they are under 21, but their names must appear in your initial application forms. However, the approval for a visa can take up to 2 years or even longer if the kids are older than 21.
2. Get a house
Moving to the USA requires a lot of preparation. Don’t rush it, or you may regret it! So, the first thing you have to do before arriving in the US is to secure housing. Ideally, you want to have this arranged prior to your arrival. Where you choose to live will have an impact on your income, later, so choose carefully. Unless you have enough savings to buy a house with cash, you may have to rent in the beginning. Even so, you still need cash for the tenant’s deposit and for a few months of rent and utilities, until you manage to find a job.
How to find a place to rent? First of all, contact one of the real estate agents listed on RealEstateAgent.com – an online directory featuring some of the best real estate professionals in the country. Look for the most affordable places to live or for small towns in the heart of the continent. Secondly, if the first option doesn’t work out for you, go to the members of your national community and ask for help. You will see that most communities are very open and willing to help their neighbors. The third option would be to rent from a property management company, which could be more expensive for someone who doesn’t understand the US housing market and the types of homes available. However, you can also look for properties to rent online, and you may even find good rates among the rental properties listed on Airbnb.
As a new immigrant, you can buy a house only with a Foreign National Loan, but these could be more expensive than other types of home loans and may require a large down payment. To become a homeowner, wait a few more years until you build your credit. Choose to pay your rent electronically with direct debit, get a credit card as soon as you can and start spending small amounts which you are able to repay on time. New immigrants can apply for a loan only after 18-24 months.
3. Get a job
As soon as you decide the date you want to land on the American continent you have to start looking for a job. You cannot move to the USA without a job waiting for you. What is the easiest way to find jobs in the US? Through a recruitment company. According to Forbes, the top 5 recruiters are:
- Robert Half (est. 1948)
- Korn Ferry (est. 1969)
- Aerotek (est. 1983)
- Kelly Services (est. 1946)
- Randstad (est. 1960)
Depending on your background, you may also consider a real estate career. You may have what it takes to become a member of a successful real estate agent’s team. However, you cannot apply for a real estate license until you become a US citizen. And don’t be surprised to find employers who hire only US citizens. The minimum wage in the US has been $7.25/hour since 2009, but your salary depends on your location, too. In the cities with the highest cost of living, salaries can be higher than the national average.
In conclusion, moving to the USA is a bureaucratic process. It takes time, patience and money. The Diversity Visa Lottery fee was $330 in 2018. Also, you have to pass an interview. For couples who apply for a green card, the interviewing officer will put a lot of questions to make sure the relationship is authentic and not a business deal. Moving to the USA as a student could be an easy step towards a green card, also. The more you trust yourself, the more chances you stand to make it here. Make yourself at home!
However, don’t wait too long to make the step! The sooner you move, the better!