3 minute read


Pathways To Immigration

The path taken to become an immigrant varies and affects subsequent adjustment and opportunities in the new country. Two common patterns are for the family to immigrate at the same time or for the primary wage earner to immigrate first and sponsor the rest of the family later. The primary wage earner is usually the most employable family member, either a man or woman, depending upon job opportunities and who meets the criteria for immigration. This wage earner is expected to support family members back home financially while also saving enough money to sponsor their immigration.

Carola and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco (2001), in their study of children of immigrants in fifty schools in Boston and San Francisco, noted that only 35 percent of their sample immigrated at the same time as their parents. Typically, the child stays in the home country with one parent or other relatives, with the separation lasting months or years. The child remains behind because the home country is the best place to raise the child, or the immigrant parent's work hours limit ability to care for the child. When further schooling is not available in the country of origin, the child immigrates. Whether detrimental effects occur depend upon how the parties involved view the situation. If it is considered acceptable in the child's native culture, and if positive relationships exist with parents and temporary caregivers, the effects are less negative. Shorter periods of separation, knowledge of when the separation will end, and frequent communication through letters, gifts, phone calls, and visits, result in less negative outcomes. Once the child is reunited with parents, there are additional adjustments—loss of not being with caregiver and friends in the home country, adjusting to the new country, specifically to school, to parent(s), and to siblings born in the interim.

Family sponsorship rather than employment is the major route of recent immigration to the United States, but not to Canada and Australia. In the year 2000, 71 percent of U.S. immigrants were family sponsored compared with 31 percent of Canadian and 45 percent of Australian immigrants (Dovidio and Esses 2001). Under family sponsorship, marriage to a citizen is the major route of entry in the United States. There is a multiplier effect of family reunification on immigration among legal immigrants. Individuals sponsored by family become permanent residents and are able to sponsor additional family members. Many recent immigrants have kin already living in and knowledgeable about life in the new country, facilitating their adjustment (Rumbaut 1997).

Illegal or undocumented immigration is another route. Legal immigration is critical for full access to public benefits and opportunities afforded to legal residents. Illegal or undocumented immigrants may also be deported, splitting up the family unit if it contains citizens born in the country as well as nondocumented members (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 2001). Experts suggest that limits on family sponsorship result in additional illegal immigrants because they do not see a chance to reunite otherwise (Donato, Durand, and Massey 1992).

Not all immigration involves a permanent move to another country. There are three types of temporary immigration: (1) A target earner goes to another country for employment, returning to the home country when a targeted amount of earnings have been saved. One or both parents may be such earners, but the children remain with relatives in the home country. Months or even years later, the earner has achieved the goal and reunites with family in the home country. (2) Sojourners are temporarily in the country. They may be executives or employees of multinational corporations, or seasonal workers in agriculture or construction. Spouse or children may go with them or remain behind in the home country. (3) Binationals work and live in two countries, having the legal status (work permits, citizenship) to do so. This pattern is not common, possibly because it requires proximity or ease of travel between the two nations and considerable financial resources (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 2001).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesImmigration - Reasons For Immigration, Policy, Pathways To Immigration, Immigration's Effect On Families