Multicultural Resources

Introduction to Immigration

Who are the Limited English Proficient (LEP) people in Maine?


Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are foreign-born individuals who have been admitted to live permanently in the United States. People become LPRs through various ways, including family-sponsored immigration, employment-based immigration, refugee and asylum admissions, an annual “visa lottery,” and a variety of other legal avenues. Family-sponsored immigration typically accounts for more than two-thirds of all legal immigration into the United States each year.

(Sources: USCIS Annual Statistical Yearbook (various years), available at:, and “A New Century: Immigration and the US,” Migration Information Source, February 2005


An immigrant is broadly defined in the United States Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States, except for persons admitted with temporary (“nonimmigrant” – see definition below) visas. An undocumented noncitizen, for example, who entered the United States without permission, would be defined as an immigrant under the INA. However, many people use the term “immigrant” to refer to an individual admitted to the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident.

(Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services


A nonimmigrant is a person who is allowed to enter the U.S. for a temporary period. The person must have a permanent residence abroad and qualify for the nonimmigrant classification sought. The most common nonimmigrants are those with visitor visas, but there are also nonimmigrant visas available for foreign students, temporary workers, including agricultural workers and professional workers, performing artists and athletes, and foreign government officials, among others. There are more than fifty different nonimmigrant visa classifications. In some cases, spouses and unmarried minor (or dependent) children of nonimmigrants can also receive nonimmigrant visas so that the family can be in the U.S. together.

(Source: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

Temporary Protected Status

When natural disasters, civil wars or other conditions creating urgent humanitarian situations occur in a foreign country, the U.S. government may designate that country for “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS). Citizens of a designated country may apply for TPS, if they can prove that they were already in the US on the date of the designation, and that they have lived in the U.S. continuously since the designation date, among other eligibility criteria. Persons who have previously been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors are ineligible. TPS is typically granted for one year or 18 month increments and the US government may extend TPS multiple times before deciding to terminate the designation. Persons who are legally here, for example, on nonimmigrant visas, or persons who are undocumented, can apply for TPS if eligible. Once TPS ends, persons who have no other legal status can be put into court proceedings to remove them from the U.S. if they do not leave on their own. Persons who have TPS are able to get a work permit in order to work legally in the U.S.

Applictions Pending

Immigration applications can take a very long time to be processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or by the immigration courts. For example, a resident of Maine who files for asylum may be waiting as long as a decade to receive a decision. Noncitizen domestic violence survivors may be waiting from a year and one-half to nine years to obtain residency, depending upon the situation. Often, persons applying for an immigration benefit are able to remain in the U.S. legally while their applications are in process, and can also obtain a work permit in order to support themselves while they wait for a decision. Many of Maine’s LEP residents fall into this category.

Undocumented Immigrants

An undocumented immigrant or undocumented noncitizen, sometimes referred to as an “illegal alien,” is someone who enters or lives in the U.S. without official authorization. He or she may be someone who initially entered the U.S. without permission, or someone who entered with a nonimmigrant visa and became “out of status,” such as by staying longer than allowed, or by not fully following all the rules related to one’s visa, which may according to estimates combining data from Census 2000, the Immigration and Naturalization Service statistics, the March 2000 Current Population Survey, the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, and previous estimates made, in 2000, some 8.5 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States

(Source: Jeffrey Passel, “New Estimates of the Undocumented Population in the United States,” Migration Information Source: May 22, 2002,

The differing usage of the terms “undocumented immigrants” and “illegal aliens” is often considered a political choice. “Illegal aliens” is the term used by federal Immigration authorities to refer to a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who entered the United States without permission or who violated the terms of her nonimmigrant visa, and is residing in the United States “illegally”. “Undocumented immigrants” or “undocumented noncitizens” are used by many immigration reformists to indicate the gray area which often exists around immigration statuses, with many immigrants either arriving with one status (or none at all) and later applying for and achieving legal immigration status, or in the reverse case when immigration paperwork lapses for one of many possible reasons and a documented immigrant becomes “illegal.”


A refugee, in most cases, is a person who is outside of his or her country of nationality and is unable or unwilling to return due to having suffered persecution in the past, or having a well-founded fear of future persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

The number of refugees who will be admitted into the United States is set annually by the President in consultation with Congress, and there are also limits by global geographic regions. Refugees are eligible to apply for permanent resident status after one year of physical presence in the United States. . Catholic Charities Maine Refugee and Immigrant Services has resettled over 12,000 refugees in the past 30 years.

In the U.S. refugees are authorized to work upon arrival, and are eligible for federal benefits to help them begin their lives again in the U.S.

(Sources: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services



An asylee is a refugee whose fear of persecution has been recognized by the United States government after the asylee has already arrived in the United States or in a U.S. territory, and has applied for and been granted asylum in the United States. Asylees are eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status after one year of physical presence in the United States, and are eligible for the same federal public benefits as refugees.
(Source: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

Withholding Of Removal/Deferral Of Removal

Persons granted withholding of removal have proved that they face a likelihood of persecution if returned to their home countries, based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, but for various reasons they were not eligible to apply for asylum. Individuals who have “withholding” are eligible for most federal public benefits programs on the same terms as refugees and asylees.

Persons with deferral of removal were similarly ineligible to apply for asylum, but have proved that they face a likelihood of torture if returned to their home countries. Persons with withholding or deferral of removal are authorized to work and may remain in the U.S. until the U.S. government determines that it has become safe for them to return to their home countries.


Parolees are persons who are not eligible for any of the normal nonimmigrant or immigrant visa categories, but whom the U.S. government nonetheless allows to come to the United States for humanitarian, medical, or other compelling reasons. Some parolees are admitted for a temporary period, other parolees are eligible to live in the U.S. permanently. There are various avenues that parolees may have to become permanent residents of the United States. Certain parolees are eligible for federal public benefits, and most parolees are eligible for a variety of state benefits. Most parolees, particularly those paroled in for a year or more, are eligible to obtain permission to work in the U.S. Many immigrants in Maine have “parolee” status.”

(Source: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Migrant Workers

Migrant workers move to different geographical regions on a seasonal basis according to job availability. Maine’s migrant and seasonal farm workers are primarily employed on a part-time basis in field work related to the planting, harvest or production of potatoes, blueberries, apples, broccoli, eggs and maple syrup, as well as in fishing and seafood processing. Some migrant workers come here from abroad with temporary agricultural worker visas arranged by their employers, to be able to work for a specific farm or company that needs migrant help. Others already live in the U.S. or in Maine and follow the harvests. Others may leave the towns in Maine where they permanently reside to work only one or two harvests, and then return to their regular jobs and routines.

Secondary Migration

"Secondary Migration" is a legal term which refers specifically to refugees who are placed for resettlement initially in one location in the United States, and who decide to relocate to another part of the United States during their first eight months in the country. Special "refugee resettlement" benefits that refugees are eligible to receive in those first eight months through their initial refugee resettlement agency can follow secondary refugees to their new location(s) and be distributed to them through a successor refugee resettlement agency. If a refugee moves to another part of the U.S. after her/his initial eight months in the United States, the special refugee resettlement benefits no longer are available to the refugee in the new location and legally speaking, the refugee is not a "secondary migrant," but rather is just another person relocating from one place to another in the United States. 2006 estimates are between 1200 - 1500 migrant workers in Maine.

Secondary migration is also frequently used colloquially to refer to any occurrence of immigrants (including refugees) moving from one part of the United States to another, although this is not the correct legal definition of the term. It is very common for immigrants to relocate in search of better work, cheaper housing, safer neighborhoods, or to be closer to friends or family--essentially for all the same reasons that most people relocate. Secondary migration is also sometimes used to refer to family members who have arrived at a later date with a different status than the refugee family member who sponsored them, although this is also not the true legal definition of the term.

It is incredibly difficult to provide numerical estimates for secondary migration, in the non-legal sense of the term, and most immigration data does not track secondary migration. Nevertheless, it is arguably the largest force affecting immigration into the state of Maine. Far more immigrants come to Maine every year through secondary migration than are placed here through federal refugee resettlement placements. It is estimated that somewhere between 1500-2500 secondary migrants have accessed City of Portland between 2001 and 2005. According to the City of Portland's Refugee Service Program, approximately 80% of Maine’s immigrant population is due to secondary migration.

For A Deeper Understanding Of Refugees

Most refugees are forced to leave their country of origin because of threat of death, bodily harm, economic ruin, and/or social isolation. Contrary to what many think, refugees do not always come from countries where there is a civil war. Conditions such as famine, drought and even tsunamis, while they may force persons to abandon their homes and their countries, do not constitute a reason for being granted refugee status. The number of refugees allowed into the U.S., and the countries represented in any given year, have as much to do with U.S. foreign policy and economic interests as with any humanitarian concerns.

  • Most refugees would rather remain in their homeland.
  • Most refugees arrive in poor psychological and physical condition as a result of exposure to extreme violence, torture, starvation, and/or imprisonment.
  • Most refugees have spent prolonged periods in abysmal refugee camps in a third country while awaiting “placement”.

Refugees may be given a choice of resettlement in two or three countries, but may find that they are not accepted for their first choice, nor can they decide where to live within that country in terms of their original resettlement location. After arriving at their resettlement location, refugees are free to relocate to any other part of the U.S. but they may not be able to access federal refugee resettlement benefits depending on when they move from one place to another in the U.S.

An Explanation Of The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program

Each refugee case approved for admission to the United States is R&P by one of ten “voluntary agencies” participating in the Reception & Placement program under a cooperative agreement with the Department of State.

The sponsoring agency is responsible for placing the refugees included in a case with one of its affiliated offices in an appropriate location in the United States and for providing initial services, which include housing, essential furnishings, food, clothing, community orientation and referral to other social and employment services, for the refugees’ first 30-90 days in the U.S. The R&P program is a public-private partnership, which anticipates that voluntary agencies will contribute significant cash and/or in-kind resources to supplement U.S. Government per capita grants.

(Source: The State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

For A Deeper Understanding Of Immigrants

  • Immigrants are a very diverse group of people who come to the United States (and to Maine) for many reasons.
  • Immigrants often arrive in the United States on either permanent or temporary work visas or through family members who have submitted immigration applications on their behalf.
  • Most immigrants choose willingly to come to the United States. Nevertheless, that choice may also have been influenced by issues of unemployment, natural disaster, or hunger in their nation of origin. Many immigrants struggle with similar issues to refugees of separation from spouses, children, or extended family supports.
  • Many immigrants have higher education or hold professional certifications in their nation of origin—credentials which often are not transferable to similar credentials in the United States. Most immigrants end up working in positions drastically lower in prestige and/or power than what they held in their nation of origin.

For A Deeper Understanding Of Temporary Non-Immigrant Foreign Workers and Local Seasonal and Migrant Workers

Maine has a significant number of seasonal migrant workers in the following areas:

  • Tree planting and harvesting
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Apples
  • Broccoli
  • Cranberries
  • Wreaths
  • Eggs
  • Seafood, sea cucumbers, shrimp and sea urchins

Agricultural and forestry workers begin arriving in April and may remain in Maine through October. Other migrant workers are here throughout the winter working in the fish processing and wreath making industries.