Your Crash Course on Immigration and Social Work

by edralyn on April 20, 2013

Immigration Reform Ed Royce Rally 1-19-10 (21)

Your Crash Course on Immigration and Social Work

The image of America as a “melting pot” has persisted for decades, and in many cities, seems more prevalent than ever. An article written by George Borjas on the Center for Immigration Studies website notes that as many as one million immigrants come to the United States each year. This means that as a social worker, it’s your responsibility to understand more about immigration-related situations. Keep reading to learn about a few common terms and scenarios you could encounter.

Legal Permanent Resident/Green Card Holder

Once a person acquires a green card, that document represents that they have become what’s known as a Legal Permanent Resident, or LPR. These individuals enjoy many of the same rights and responsibilities as American citizens, and after a period of several years (usually five to seven), they may be eligible to start the process of obtaining citizenship.


Social workers who work with crime victims from other countries quickly become familiarized with U-Visas. In order to receive a U-Visa, an individual must agree to cooperate with law enforcement officials, and may be granted temporary legal residence in the United States after going through certain traumas such as domestic violence or a sexual assault.

Violence Against Women Act Self Petition

Closely related to U-Visas is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petition. It allows female domestic violence victims to independently petition for legal residency without relying on an abusive spouse or partner.

Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ)

Also, consider learning more about situations related to immigrant juveniles. Even if you don’t plan on working with kids right away, data from the National Association of Social Workers found that about six percent of social workers spend at least part of their time working in schools, so it might be an option for the future. A Special Immigrant Juvenile, or SIJ, is a minor who has been placed in foster care under the direction of a judge. This long-term scenario occurs when it has been legally deemed unsafe for an underage individual to return to his or her home country. Eventually, children who are given this designation may be eligible to apply for green cards.

KRC Immigration Reform Diner Fundraiser (Pack One) 2-19-10 (44)

The Difference Between Refugees and Asylees

No overview of immigration law and social work terminology would be complete without explaining the differences between people who are defined as refugees, and those classified as asylees. Making the clarification can initially be confusing, since both groups are in the United States because they fear being persecuted in their home country. The main difference is that asylees apply for protection once they’ve already arrived in the United States, and refugees often do so prior to being admitted into the country, in places like refugee camps.

Working in Partnership with Legal Professionals

As a social worker handling an immigration case, you’ll almost certainly work hand-in-hand with legal professionals. Depending on the scope of the case, you could be expected to collect evidence, write detailed reports, attend to family court cases that must be resolved before immigration options can be explored and even act as a contact person to facilitate communication between immigrants and law enforcement officials. Decisions should never be made in haste or without complete information, which is why it’s so important to supplement your skills with legal knowledge from a qualified professional, and work together to achieve favorable results for clients.

Although it’s impossible to cover all the possible issues and definitions about immigration situations that require social workers, hopefully the above information has provided a solid introduction to many of the major aspects that could be important during your career.

Robert Neff is an avid blogger. If you want to help the underserved, consider a degree in social work such as those offered at Case Western.

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