Immigration facts and fundamentals

“We’re a nation of immigrants.” You may have heard that phrase a lot recently. What does it mean? Read some history and facts here – and find out where you can learn more.

History of immigration:

Here’s an overview of the history of immigration in the U.S., pulled from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website:

View the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ full history of immigration in the Unites States here.

Immigration fundamentals

Here are some basics about the Immigration and Naturalization Act, visas, and acquiring U.S. citizenship, pulled from the American Immigration Council and the U.S. State Department websites.

Temporary status

Visas allow citizens of foreign countries to request permission to enter the U.S. at a port of entry, like an airport or land border crossing. Travel and/or temporary residential status in the U.S. generally requires a visa. There are more than 20 types of temporary visas that will allow entry into the U.S. for employment, education, entertainment, tourism, medical treatment, to escape being the victim of criminal activity, to join family members who are lawful permanent residents and other reasons.
You can see the full list of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa options here.

You can find out what a visa looks like and what the information on one means here.

The latest information about visas and status changes can be found on the U.S. Department of State website.

Permanent Status

As of August, 2016, the Immigration and Naturalization Act limits the number of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) from around the world to 675,000 annually. Green card holders are those immigrants who have been granted lawful status to live and work in the United States permanently.

Permanent immigrants are granted legal residency status based on certain categories. Each category has quotas and limits. Family unification is a key priority of the U.S. immigration system. Another significant category is employment-based immigrants. refugees and those seeking political asylum and a diversity program, which distributes visas to those from countries that have low immigration rates to the U.S.


The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website provides information about how to become a U.S. citizen. The most common path to citizenship is for green card holders of at least five years to apply for citizenship, but there are other paths to citizenship, including familial relationships, and being the victim of a crime. Time in the U.S., good moral character, English and civics knowledge and attachment to the U.S. Constitution are primary considerations when being considered for citizenship. To see how these terms are defined and measured, click here.

Read the steps to becoming a U.S. citizen here:

Could you pass the naturalization test to become a U.S. citizen? Find out here:

Population, profiles and demographics

The Migration Policy Institute maintains a data hub with information about immigrant profiles, including the size and makeup of the U.S. immigrant population, workforce characteristics, English language proficiency, unauthorized immigrant information and more. Here are a few links to that information:

The U.S. immigrant population by size, educational and workforce characteristics, English language proficiency, and more:

Immigrant profiles and demographic information:

Unauthorized immigration profiles:

Deferred Action Childhood Arrival data:

Immigration data pocket guide: