Immigrant: A person who travels to another country in order to live and work there.
Immigration to America began hundreds of years ago, the moment those famous explorers set foot in the “new world” and set up colonies. A lot has happened since then! The colonies grew bigger and eventually started their own country. (Maybe you’ve heard of it… It’s called the United States of America.)
The U.S. was pretty amazing, so more people came, and more people, and more … There’s a reason why America is sometimes called a “melting pot.” Over the years, Americans have come from everywhere!
Check out the link to learn why five kids and their families left their homelands and what it's like to be a newcomer in America.
When people migrate, they don’t just leave one place and magically arrive somewhere else. Usually something pushes them away from their native country and pulls them toward a new place. This idea is called the push-pull factor.
Push factors are the circumstances that make a person want to leave. Don’t have a job? Treated badly by your government? Lose all of your crops in a drought? These kinds of problems can cause people to look for a better life somewhere else.
Pull factors are the advantages a country has that make a person want to come and live there. America has huge pull factors for many people around the world who live with unstable governments, few job opportunities, and no reliable security.
Follow the link to read more about why people have come to America.
Not everyone who comes to America wants to live here forever. Some just want to see the Grand Canyon, watch a baseball game, and go home! But others hope to make the United States their home. Here are some common words and phrases related to immigration:
Alien: Something or someone that is native to one location but is living somewhere else. (If you’re an American in Paris, you’re an alien!)
Visa: Official permission to enter a country and stay for a specific period of time. (Not to be confused with the credit card company Visa, Inc.!)
Legal Permanent Resident: In the United States, an alien who has been granted the legal right to live and work permanently in the U.S.
Green Card: The identification card issued to legal permanent residents in the United States.
Illegal Immigrant: A person who is not a citizen of the country where he or she is living and is in that country without permission (illegally). Sometimes they are referred to as “illegal aliens” or just “illegals.” Note that some find it offensive to attach the word “illegal” to a person. “Undocumented immigrant” is a more neutral way to refer to this group.
Nonimmigrant: A foreign visitor who does not intend to stay
It’s not easy to come to the United States! Follow the link and read about getting a visa to enter the U.S.
A Green Card gives someone the legal right to live and work permanently in the United States. It also lets them travel to other countries for a certain period of time and apply for their spouse and children to get Green Cards.
People who have Green Cards are not citizens, but they can apply for citizenship after they’ve had their Green Card for a certain number of years.
Follow the link to see the rights and responsibilities of people who have Green Cards.
Citizen: A person who enjoys full rights and responsibilities under a nation’s laws
United States citizenship is something a lot of people want. But how do you get it?
Follow the link to find out.
Naturalized Citizen: A person who became a citizen through a legal process — not by being born in the country of citizenship
There are lots of requirements for immigrants who want to be come citizens. Immigrants become naturalized citizens because they weren’t born in America. In the U.S., naturalized citizens generally have all the same rights as natural-born citizens. There’s one big exception: They cannot become President or Vice President!
Only immigrants who are eligible can apply to be citizens. In order to be eligible, they have to meet a list of requirements. Once those are met, it’s time to fill out the Application for Naturalization. They get their fingerprints taken for a background check, go to an interview, take a test (that’s right, a test!), and provide any other information the government asks for…
And then they wait for a decision.
Follow the link to see the eligibility requirements for becoming a citizen.
The Naturalization Test is critical part of the application process. There are two parts: an English test… and a civics test! These take place during the citizenship interview.
For the civics test, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer asks the applicant ten questions. It may sound easy, but there are 100 possible questions in the study guide! The applicant must answer six out of the ten questions correctly in order to pass the civics part of the test.
Follow the link and take the 25 question Naturalization Self-Test.
The Value of Citizenship
So how many people try to become American citizens each year? And how many succeed? In 2013, 779,929 people became naturalized U.S. citizens… and 83,112 people were denied.
Where do our new citizens come from? Everywhere! Successful applicants in 2013 came from every continent (okay, not Antarctica) and from countries all across the world. The top ten were Mexico, India, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Haiti, Colombia, and El Salvador.
If you’ve always lived in the United States, it might be hard to imagine what it feels like to be a person who just became a citizen. Maybe you’ve never stopped to think about what it means to be an American.
Follow the link and watch the video to find out how some immigrants felt about finally becoming an American. Pay attention to their reasons… you’ll need those for your answer below! (If the video doesn’t appear, scroll down on that page and read the transcript.)