Immigrating to the United States is not easy.

There are forms to be filled out, visas to be obtained and eventually, tests to be taken — not to mention the inevitable bureaucratic red tape to cut and hoops to jump through.

Yet many foreigners choose to take the road to America — both legally and illegally — because for them, the benefits far outweigh the hassles.

“Believe me, people would choose to come here legally if they had a choice,” said Sandra Anez Powell, director of Mujeres Unidas, a support group for Hispanic women. “There are people who will never qualify for a visa. And that’s why they have no choice but to come and risk their lives and their loved ones.”

Powell immigrated to the United States 17 years ago from Venezuela. Describing the route foreigners take to immigrate to America is something Powell said she cannot do because everyone’s path is different.

However, she and Eastern Kentucky University Assistant Professor of Spanish, Socorro Zaragoza, agreed that for everyone immigration is both difficult and costly.

“You have to pay for all the paperwork and it doesn’t guarantee you that you are going to be accepted,” Zaragoza said.

For those who can find access to the Internet, the U.S. government hosts several Web sites that direct foreigners to information about how to first obtain a visa to come to the states and additionally, how to become an American citizen once they have arrived.

Getting a visa

The visa Web site,, provides four boxes identifying the ways foreigners may enter the country — to visit, do business, study or become a permanent resident. After clicking on the link to become a permanent resident, the Web site offers this information:

“Most people who want to immigrate must have a sponsor or petitioner. This can be either a relative or an employer. The petitioner must file an immigrant visa petition with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For the diversity visa lottery, an applicant’s winning entry is considered the petition. A limited number of people can file petitions for themselves.”

The same Web site offers a “step-by-step” outline of the visa application procedures, which starts with contacting either the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest to them to set up an appointment.

“Wait times for appointments may be longer than in the past,” the outline states. “... Be sure to ask what fees are required and how they can be paid. Application fees are non-refundable and must be paid before your appointment.”

The application fee alone for an immigrant visa is $355.

Once proof of fee payment has been obtained, the outline instructs applicants to gather several documents, including passports and a “financial status.” After submitting those documents to the U.S. Embassy or Consolate, it will be reviewed there and often by Washington, D.C., officials.

“For most applicants, the visa is issued within a few weeks,” the outline states. “There is no guarantee of obtaining a visa.”

But for some people, their submitted personal information is fed through a comprehensive security database, which could lead to an additional wait.

“If your name or a close variation indicates security concerns, the process will be delayed,” the outline states. “Additional steps will vary from requests for additional interviews and information to official registration and fingerprinting. This may add at least four to six weeks to the processing time. ...

“We want to ensure that the visa application process is straightforward for people who want to come to the U.S. to study, visit and conduct business,” the outline states. “It is true that some things have changed. Recent events have required the U.S. to modify and intensify some of its visa policies to ensure safety and security. As a nation, the U.S. is working harder than ever to identify and deny entry to those who mean harm to our country.”

Becoming a citizen

The two most common ways people become U.S. citizens is by being born within the U.S. boundaries or to U.S. citizen parents, according to the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In addition, in 2000, Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act (CCA), which allows any child under the age of 18 who is adopted by a U.S. citizen and immigrates to the United States to acquire immediate citizenship.

The other option is by naturalization, which means obtaining the rights of a U.S. citizen.

Immigrants wishing to become an official U.S. citizen must be willing to be put to the test.

A fee of $675 must be paid to take the U.S. citizenship test, according to

The following gives a glimpse of questions on the current U.S. citizenship test:

• How many stripes are on the U.S. flag?

• Who is chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court?

• How many supreme court justices are there?

• In what year was the constitution written?

• What are the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution called?

• When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

• What are the 13 original states?

As of Oct. 1, applicants for U.S. citizenship will have to take a new version of the citizenship test that reportedly is more difficult than the previous version, according to information at

The Web site also provides a DVD to help prepare for the citizenship test at a cost of $199.

Immigration advocates may claim that the cost of taking the test, not including the cost of a study guide, is just another obstacle to keep immigrants from obtaining official U.S. citizenship, but Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services disagrees.

Gonzalez defended the costs, which continue to rise, at a 2007 press conference that was reported by the Los Angeles Times.

He claimed that previous fee hikes had not reduced the number of applicants and that the charges were necessary to efficiently process the workload of 6 million immigration applications and petitions each year.

On the web

Visit or (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) for more information about migrating to the U.S. or obtaining U.S. citizenship.

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