It has long been my contention that the United States has the most generous legal immigration policy in the world, issuing more green cards for permanent legal immigration every year than all the rest of the nations of the world combined. This contention has been regularly questioned, so I’d like to re-state my case.
What is a green card? The Migration Policy Institute says this: “Also known as green-card holders, immigrants are persons lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States who have the right to reside, work, study, and own property in the country. In contrast, foreign students, H-1B workers, and tourists are part of the large category of temporary nonimmigrant admissions.”
How many other countries even have green card immigration like the U.S., admitting immigrants as permanent, not temporary residents, with rights comparable to those of citizens, including a clear path to full citizenship? The answer is not very many. Most countries do not think of themselves as immigrant countries, and do not offer green card immigration in any formal program to any significant numbers of immigrants.
I can think of just three other countries that have green card permanent immigration programs comparable in substance to that of the United States: Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Not coincidentally, these three countries, like the U.S., also regard themselves as immigrant countries.
While the U.S. annually issues around 1 million green cards for permanent residence, Canada typically issues between 250,000 and 300,000. Australia reports “net overseas migration” at 212,695 in 2014. And New Zealand is reported as admitting around 50,000 permanent residents annually.
I specify permanent legal immigration comparable to the U.S. green card, but there’s a big dispute out there whether renewable temporary residence permits should be counted as permanent since, if renewed, they can effectively result in permanent residence. An OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) spokesman is quoted as saying this in defense of OECD statistics doing just that:
“The million annual entries in the USA are green cards, which grant permanent residence. Similar permanent residence statistics are used for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Most other countries grant renewable temporary permits which eventually lead (usually after 3 to 8 years) to permanent residence. We classify such entries as “permanent-type” because in practice the long-term stay rates for recipients of these visas/permits are similar to those for ‘permanent’ immigrants to USA, Canada, etc.”
Obviously if you count temporary permits as green cards, you can get a bigger number of non-U.S. green cards, but they are not comparable. True green card holders don’t have to do anything to live permanently in the country issuing the green card. They don’t have to apply for renewals. And true green cards as issued in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, provide a clear path to full citizenship equal to that of all other citizens.
Green card holders are permanent legal immigrants. Holders of temporary residence permits are just that. In the U.S., holders of temporary residence permits are classified as “nonimmigrants”, even if they renew to stay longer. So yes, the U.S. does issue more green cards for permanent legal immigration than all the rest of the nations of the world combined.
 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1101(a)(15).