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Sen. Ron Johnson said the United States is the only nation “that grants legal permanent residency to more than a million people per year.” (Associated Press) Sen. Ron Johnson said the United States is the only nation “that grants legal permanent residency to more than a million people per year.” (Associated Press)

Sen. Ron Johnson said the United States is the only nation “that grants legal permanent residency to more than a million people per year.” (Associated Press)

Mica Soellner
By Mica Soellner December 26, 2019

Sen. Ron Johnson hits bulls-eye with claim on U.S. leading in granting legal permanent residency

There is no doubt the United States is a magnet for immigrants, but with a crackdown on both illegal and legal immigration under President Donald Trump, how does it compare with other countries when it comes to providing residency?

According to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, the U.S. continues to outpace other nations when it comes to granting permanent residency to people entering the country.

"There is not another nation on Earth, other than the United States of America, that grants legal permanent residency to more than a million people per year," Johnson tweeted Nov. 13, 2019. 

The tweet featured a clip of Johnson speaking at a Senate hearing that day discussing migration rates over the past year.

Is Johnson right?

The language 

Johnson uses the term "legal permanent residency," which the Department of Homeland Security defines as non-citizens lawfully authorized to permanently live in the U.S. They can also be referred to as "green card" holders.

Legal permanent residents, or LPRs, are allowed to work without special restrictions, own property, receive financial aid for higher education and join the military. 

Though they have the majority of the same rights as a U.S. citizen, green card holders can’t vote in any federal elections and typically are barred from voting in state and local elections as well. 

When traveling out of the country, authorities may also scrutinize green card holders more than citizens, especially if they intend to be out of the country for a significant length of time.

Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration rates, said the "legal permanent residency" pathway to citizenship is not used in most other countries outside the United States.

"LPRs, if they live in the U.S. for 5 years, 3 years if (they’re) spouses of citizens, can get U.S. citizenship -- assuming they do not commit a serious crime," Camarota told PolitiFact Wisconsin in an email. "Other countries admit foreigners for long-term temporary work or study or they even grant them asylum, etc. 

"But, in most cases, they do not offer them a clear path to citizenship. In that sense, the U.S. is different."

Limiting entry

We asked Johnson’s office for backup on this claim, but they did not respond.

According to the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think tank, hardline rhetoric and policies under Trump may be having an impact on the declining rate of immigrants into the U.S. 

In 2018, the foreign-born population in the U.S. rose by 203,000, the lowest level since the first year of the Great Recession in 2007. Over the past decade, the annual increase has ranged between 400,000 and 1 million. 

The total number of foreign-born people residing in the U.S. in 2018 was 45 million. Of that number, roughly 22.6 million were naturalized citizens and 22.1 were noncitizens -- with half that number estimated to be residing illegally, according to Brookings.

According to Department of Homeland Security data from 2017, the most recent year available, the number of people who were given legal permanent residence in the U.S. was still over 1.1 million.

How does that compare with other nations?

Global comparison 

Camarota said Canada, Australia and New Zealand are the closest to the U.S. when it comes to granting legal permanent residencies that could lead to eventual citizenship. 

The Canadian government set out a three-year plan that aims to provide residency to 1 million new immigrants between 2018 and 2020.

In 2018, Canada exceeded its goal of accepting 310,000 permanent residents by about 10,000. The target for 2019 was set at about 313,000, while 2020 is set at 340,000.

Earlier this year, Australia limited its migration cap to accepting only 160,000 permanent new residents a year over the next four years, with its government emphasizing border protection.

New Zealand accepted 142,900 migrants in 2018, which their government considered a high number. Through May 2019, roughly 144,900 migrants arrived in the country this year.

Regardless, those numbers all fall short of the U.S.

What about European countries that have dealt with an influx of refugees from war-torn Syria?

A record 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum across the 28 member states of the European Union, plus Norway and Switzerland in 2015. Though asylum is often temporary, these numbers do show an increase in the number of people being taken in across Europe.

Even at the height of admitting asylum seekers, though, no country topped 1 million. In 2015, Germany admitted around 890,000 refugees, according to the English-language German news site, the Local. 

Robert Warren, a senior visiting fellow at the Center for Migration Studies, said despite immigration upticks from other nations, the U.S. is still in the lead. 

"No other country admits nearly as many immigrants as the United States over long periods," Warren said. 

Our rating

Johnson said the United States is the only nation "that grants legal permanent residency to more than a million people per year."

Though other countries have undertaken initiatives to grant permanent residency to more immigrants in recent years, those totals remain below the U.S.  

The U.S. is still the top country in number of permanent residencies it grants, topping 1.1 million in 2017, the most recent year available.

We rate Johnson’s claim True. 

Our Sources

Twitter, Ron Johnson account, Nov. 13, 2019

E-mail exchange with Robert Warren, Center for Migration Studies, on Dec. 10, 2019

E-mail exchange with Steven Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, on Dec. 10, 2019

Department of Homeland Security, Lawful Permanent Residents definition, data

Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2017

European Commission, Migration and Migrant population statistics, 2019

AllLaw, Permanent Resident vs. Citizen: What’s the Difference?

National Conference of State Legislatures, Snapshot of U.S. Immigration, 2019

The Local, 890,000 refugees arrived in Germany last year - not 1.1 m, Sept. 30, 2016

Pew Research Center, Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 million in 2015, Aug. 16, 2015

The Guardian, Coalition’s permanent migration cap revealed as Morrison launches population policy, March 19, 2019

Government of Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Departmental Plan 2018-2019

Reuters, Canadian businesses have a message ahead of the election: We need immigrant workers, June 26, 2019

Government of New Zealand, Migration remains high in 201

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Sen. Ron Johnson hits bulls-eye with claim on U.S. leading in granting legal permanent residency

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