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California Counts, Report · June 2008

Immigrant Pathways to Legal Permanent Residence: Now and Under a Merit-Based System

Joseph Hayes and Laura Hill

How do immigrants become legal permanent residents in the United States? The process is complicated and often takes years to accomplish. This study examines how current federal immigration policies operate, focusing in particular on how the policies affect California, which is home to 27% of the nation’s immigrants. The authors also examine how changes to federal immigration policy proposed last year would alter the composition of legal immigrants in the United States. The proposed legislation would replace the current system — which gives priority to applicants based on family reunification and employment — with a system that places greater emphasis on employment and skills.