Immigration to the United States is the process whereby a person is admitted as a lawful permanent resident (LPR). The most common paths to LPR status are family sponsorship, employment-based immigrationimmigration through investment, asylum or refugee status, and selection in the diversity lottery. Another way to immigrate is through “cancellation of removal,” awarded by an immigration judge in removal proceedings.

Quota System

U.S. law imposes limitations on the number of prospective immigrants who may be admitted annually. The Immigration Act of 1990 established an annual limitation of 700,000 on quota-restricted immigrants. The annual limitation of immigrant visa numbers allotted to applicants worldwide is divided among certain “preference categories” of family-sponsored immigrants, employment-based immigrants, and diversity immigrants. Among the classes of immigrants exempt from this limitation are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (including spouses, parents, and minor unmarried children), certain persons granted adjustment of status as refugees or asylees, and those under the cancellation-of-removal provisions.

Visa availability for the various preference categories under the quota system is based on worldwide and country-specific demand and determined according to a complex statutory formula administered by the U.S. Department of State. The law establishes “per country” ceilings within the annual allotments for family-sponsored, employment-sponsored, and diversity immigrants, applying the annual limitation to natives of any single foreign state. Current law entitles natives of all foreign states up to 7% (about 26,000) of the visas issued under family-based and employment-based preference categories.

Monthly cut-off dates under the quota system are published in the State Department Visa Bulletin.