Undocumented Immigrants and the Path to legal Residence

Undocumented Immigrants options

If the path to legal residence was made easier, would there be fewer undocumented immigrants in the US?


Many Americans wonder why immigrants don’t just “wait in line” to enter the United States legally or simply get in line once here illegally. The answer is that the immigration system is broken and it is a far too restricted system overall. The individual intended to migrate to the US needs to have a family sponsor, employer sponsor, or money to invest. If none of these three apply to them, then entering the country illegally is their only option. Once living in the US unlawfully there is no line to ‘join’ and the options for a green card don’t exist directly.

Family Sponsored Visas and Their Limitations

Many people who enter the US legally, are admitted through family-based visas. A US citizen can sponsor their spouses, parents, children, and siblings to immigrate. A lawful permanent resident can sponsor their spouses and unmarried children. Indirectly family members such as aunts/uncles, nephews/nieces/ cousins, or in-laws cannot be sponsored for a family-based green-card. If you are not the spouse, parent, or minor child of a US citizen, you may have to wait in line to receive your visa for a very long time. There is a visa limit per year and depending on what category and country of nationality you are, the waiting time can often be unbearably long.

Siblings and unmarried adult children of US citizens from Mexico and the Philippines are having to wait at least 20 years according to current waiting times. It can be longer, depending on how many applications were submitted in a particular month and year. Current backlogs date from 1998 and have been similar in length for some time now. For those who are eligible to apply right now, they too will not have certainty around how long they may have to wait. Many people get highly discouraged at the waiting times, whilst others wish they could at least have the option.

Employment Sponsored Visas and Quotas

If an individual wishing to come to the United States does not have any qualifying family member that could sponsor them, their only other option is to find an employer to sponsor them or invest money with a business-based visa. For most employment-based visas, an education background of at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent is required, and/or a certain number of job skills experience, and to find an employer who is willing to sponsor and pay the costs.

It’s extremely hard to find an employment while you are overseas and also to have to break the news to your prospective employer that they will need to cover your visa costs. Plus, for an employment-based visa, the application needs to demonstrate that no other American is able to fulfil the position and for that reason it is valid to bring in a foreign worker.

Those who are fortunate enough to find an employer to sponsor them might have to wait long wait times depending on their category and quota per year, country of origin. Currently, immigrant workers from India are having to expect waiting times of more than a decade, and according to a recent study, those applying now may have to wait over a century. If you don’t’ have at least $50,000 USD to invest in the US, then you are pretty much short of options.


If the path towards lawful permanent status was easier, yes, there would be less people coming to the US illegally. Unlawful residents cannot just get in line and wait for a green-card or even a temporary work permit. Yes, there are some lines available but for aspiring lawful permanent residents these waiting times are considered too long. In current immigration law, there is not an option for unlawful residents to automatically qualify for a green card if they have lived in the US for ‘X’ number of years, or have paid taxes and have a clean criminal record. Congress would have to create a pathway to lawful permanent status for this category of people.

Under extraordinary circumstances, if someday any of these individuals who don’t have many options to legalize their status become the unfortunate victim of a crime, then they could find an opportunity to fix their status. Also, if they find themselves under the control of immigration authorities, such as ICE, they could also possibly obtain a relief to apply for a green card in front of a judge; but usually only if detained by ICE and certain requirements are met. These scenarios are few and far between and if they should arise, they would certainly require the help of a highly qualified and experienced immigration attorney.

If you are facing removal proceedings or have been a victim of a crime, please contact Motion Law Immigration today at: (202) 918-1799 or request a FREE Consultation with one of our expert immigration attorneys.