How Legal Immigration Works

May 24, 2006

While 12 million non-deportable illegal immigrants wait for their amnesty, here – based on my own experience – is how Brit nuclear physicists, brain surgeons, rocket scientists, etc. are faring in their attempts to enter the US.

They might start – as I did before college – by visiting the US as a tourist under the visa waiver program. At their port of entry, they’ll be photographed and fingerprinted – to ensure they don’t overstay the allotted maximum of 90 days.

After graduating, they might visit on business – my first was as a customer of a US company. For that they’ll need a B-1 visa, which will cost $100 and a visit to the US Embassy in London for an interview with the INS. You have to be patient:

The average Appointment Wait Time for all non-immigrant visa categories is generally 30 to 40 days.

At the interview they’ll be photographed and fingerprinted. The application should be processed in 3 days, so their stamped passport should arrive about a week after the interview.

To actually work in the US, they’ll need an H1B visa, which allows a US company to employ an alien for up to 6 years. The catch is that numbers are limited – just 65,000 of them worldwide this year, plus you have to be a professional:

The H1B visa is designed to be used for staff in “speciality occupations”, that is those occupations that require a high degree of specialized knowledge.

Generally at least the equivalent of a job-relevant 4-year US Bachelor’s degree is required (this requirement can usually be met by having a 3-year degree and 3 years’ relevant post-graduate experience).

To get the H1B needs more form-filling, affidavits to back the forms up, and an interview at the US embassy in London. The company employing you may also have to jump through hoops:

…certain employers, called ‘H1B dependent employers’ to advertise positions in the USA before petitioning to employ H1B workers for those positions.

H1B dependent employers are defined as those having more than 15% of their employees in H1B status (for firms with over 50 employees – small firms are allowed a higher percentage of H1B employees before becoming ‘dependent’).

In addition all new H1B petitions and 1st extensions of H1B’s now require a fee (in addition to the usual filing fees) of US$1,000 to be paid, which will be used to fund a training programme for resident US workers.

Finally, after you’ve worked in the US, and paid your taxes, you may want – as I did – to normalize your status by applying for a Green Card. i.e. an Immigrant Visa. Assuming you don’t marry an American, or have family members who are US citizens, you might think of entering the Green Card Lottery – but you can’t if you’re a Brit:

For this year’s DV-2007, natives of the following countries are not eligible to apply because they sent a total of more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous five years: Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haita, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland which is eligible) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.

So that leaves an employment-based Green Card:

EB-1 These visas are designed for certain multinational executives and managers; outstanding professors and researchers; and those who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics

EB-2 This category is for foreign nationals professionals with an ‘advanced degrees’ (masters degree or higher) and with a job offer from a U.S. company; for foreign nationals with ‘exceptional ability’ in the sciences, business or arts and with a job offer from a U.S. company; and for foreign nationals with exceptional ability, or an advanced degree, who can show that their activities will substantially benefit the U.S. national interest

EB-3 This category is for ‘professional workers’ with a U.S. bachelor’s or foreign equivalent degree and with a job offer from a U.S. company; for ‘skilled workers’ for positions that require at least two years of training or experience and with a job offer from a U.S. company; for ‘unskilled workers’ for positions that require less than two years training or experience and with a job offer from a U.S. company.

When I applied for Mrs G’s and mine I’d been CEO of a US company and paying taxes in the US for years, and the process was much the same as the other visas. However you need an immigration attorney to deal with all the forms, and help you provide (as my attorney put it) “proof that you won’t throw yourself on the ample bosom of the US welfare state”. You and any family members accompanying you must take a full medical exam, and this plus wait time and interviews will take a full working day. I don’t have current costs, but mine cost multiple thousands of dollars and many days of prep. Plus I had to apply in the UK, even though I was at the time based in California.

The above procedures are probably similar to those Americans go through to visit the UK.

However in the US you now have the alternative of avoiding all of the above by flying to Mexico City, paying $1,000 to a smuggler to get you into the US (they don’t bill you until you’ve actually made it), and waiting for the next amnesty.

I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re a professional, since your employer is much more likely to obey the law regarding employing illegals than the average Republican-contributing day-labor outfit.

The net of all this is that the US has set high barriers to entry for English-speaking high achievers, and low barriers to entry for non-English-speaking low achievers.

From which it follows that the US Congress seeks an electorate of low-achievers.

Funny that.


Republican Death Wish

May 24, 2006

Republican lawmakers, while changing the law to amnesty 12 million illegal residents (who won’t for them), just hiked taxes for Americans working abroad (who will also now not vote for them).

US multinationals depend critically on the Americans they send abroad. It can take years to find trustworthy local talent, and while they’re doing that, multinationals rely on Americans uprooting themselves and their families to strange places. London is full of them, and I’ve yet to encounter one who was less than good – probably only the best volunteer for these high-profile jobs.

Senate Republicans just took time out from their rush to amnesty minimum wage illegals to take a swipe at these essential expats (WSJ -$):

Unlike citizens of most other countries working overseas, Americans pay taxes both abroad and at home. Until last week, Section 911 of the U.S. tax code allowed these unofficial ambassadors to exclude up to $80,000 of their foreign earnings from U.S. taxes and provided a tax break on additional compensation, including housing costs, which in places like Hong Kong or Paris or Dubai can make apartments in Manhattan look affordable.

Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, slipped a last-minute amendment into the tax bill that President Bush signed into law last week. The changes nudge up expatriates’ tax exemption to $82,400 but substantially raise taxes on additional compensation and effectively cap housing benefits. They are also all retroactive to January 1.

The point of this exercise was to “pay for” the bill’s other tax relief. Under the static analysis favored by the Joint Tax Committee, the expat effrontery will raise $2.1 billion over the next decade.

The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that taxes its citizens’ incomes regardless of where they reside. And unlike Eritrea and North Korea, other members of this exclusive club, the U.S. actually collects taxes from its nationals abroad. A better idea would be for the U.S. to follow the example of virtually every other developed country and adopt a territorial tax regime that leaves its citizens overseas alone.

Some 4.1 million Americans are living abroad. In an election year when Republicans are down in the polls, they have just offended a constituency they can ill afford to lose.

Hillary will be delighted.