Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island ca. 1900. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Comprised of countless steps, pathways and directions, the immigration process in the United States is a labyrinth for those trying to navigate it. Tedious paperwork, coupled with negative attitudes from political groups, can make the various routes to documentation confusing.

The three main methods of immigrating are family-based petitioning, employment-based petitioning and humanitarian options, George said. He explained that several different means of obtaining documentation exist, including visas, green cards and naturalization, each with different requirements, restrictions and expiration dates.

“It’s an alphabet soup of visas,” George said. “Students, F visas, tourist B visas, J visas for different types of trainees or other students, P visas and O visas for athletes of extraordinary ability, and then there’s a whole world of humanitarian-based visas.”

Lisa*, a Gainesville resident, immigrated to United States from Venezuela when she was 17 years old through a student visa to learn English.

“I call it the ‘one way ticket,’ leaving family and friends behind. I was off for a new adventure, a better future!” she wrote in an email.

After her undergraduate degree, she went through optional practical training, allowing her to stay another year, and was ultimately sponsored by a company that provided her with an H-1B visa, which is explained below. She wrote that current political attitudes toward immigrants remind her of her time under populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

George said that in addition to walls and travel bans, deportation by immigration officers without a trial or legal approval should be receiving more attention and concern. He said many of the negative beliefs toward immigrants are based on misinformation.

Despite negative attitudes from the White House, the coordinator of Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice, Richard MacMaster, said that on a local level, Alachua County has been open and supportive to immigrants. He said that broadening one’s horizons helps to better understand and be accepting of them.

“I think, overall, one of the key ideas is, ‘do you actually know someone who fits this particular category?’” Macmaster said. “It’s very easy to say a member of this religious group or this ethnic group is, by definition, someone I don’t want in my city in my country, but if you actually know a member of that group, you have a different attitude.”

Lisa, George and Macmaster all agree that education and speaking out are instrumental in changing these attitudes.

“I hope people really think about what being an immigrant really means, and what it takes to be able to legally stay here in the US,” Lisa wrote. •

*Lisa’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Below are flowcharts detailing the naturalization process; the following page includes flow charts detailing different methods of petitioning for green cards and visas. 


Naturalization and Student Visa


Green Card


Temporary Work Visa