NOI 15: Real Immigration Lawyer Reviews John Oliver’s Legal Immigration Segment

John Oliver's recent segment on the restrictions surrounding legal immigration to the United States touches on a lot of the topics we've been covering here at Nation of Immigrants.

Jacob Tingen: … Nation of Immigrants. And today, we’re going to be talking about something exciting. I’ve been a fan of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight ever since he did the net neutrality episode, and invited us all to make comments on the FCC. That’s not what we’re talking about today. However, we will be talking a little bit about Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Because last night he discussed legal immigration and some of the pitfalls and difficulties that immigrants face as they come into our nation through our legal immigration system. So, let’s kick things off. Welcome to Nation of Immigrants.

Announcer: You’re listening to Nation of Immigrants.

President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

Announcer: A podcast about US immigration law, with your host, Jacob Tingen.

Jacob Tingen: Okay. So like I said, we’re going to be talking about John Oliver’s legal immigration segment on Last Week Tonight. And one of the things that I really liked about that segment and that episode was that he mentioned that there is no line. I loved the clips where he showed a lot of people saying, “You know, I’m fine with immigrants coming to this country as long as they come the legal way, the right way, as long as they get in line.”

Jacob Tingen: We talked about that in episode six, which I titled The Myth of the Immigration Line. Because as John Oliver talks about, there’s really not a line to speak of for many, many people. And the line that is there, is blocked in many ways by something that John Oliver referenced. Immigration attorneys are talking about, calling it the invisible wall. So, it has always been difficult to get legal immigration status. And I’d say that based on actions from the Trump administration lately, it’s getting even more difficult. And so I’d like to touch base on this John Oliver episode and talk about what he got right. And I’d say that’s like 99% of everything he said was totally correct.

Jacob Tingen: There is one technical legal issue that I take issue with, but as a practical matter, he got it right about employment law. And then I’ll just kind of discuss what we’re seeing the lay of the land is in terms of our legal and political immigration discourse. All right? So, thanks again for listening in. Let’s start with one of the first organizational methods that they introduced in this episode of Last Week Tonight. I kind of enjoyed how he broke it down.

Jacob Tingen: He broke down immigration, legal immigration into family-based petitions, employment-based petitions. And then good luck applicants, and frankly bad luck applicants. So we’re all familiar that people who are related to different family members who are US citizens or lawful permanent residents, that they can petition their family members. And I think we’re also all familiar with employment based visas, or at least the concept that if hey, if we’ve got a specialized need for a specialized skill set here in the US, then of course we can have an immigrant come in and fill that position and get legal immigration status.

Jacob Tingen: I want to briefly touch on what he meant by good luck and bad luck. So good luck reflects our diversity visa program. The idea being that for countries where we don’t see a lot of immigrants, we give out a diversity visa. The idea of being that we want to encourage diversity in our country’s immigration makeup, and that’s a good thing. He didn’t do a deep dive into the diversity visa, maybe that’s a good topic for one of our future episodes. But even if you get selected for a diversity visa, that doesn’t mean that you get an automatic ticket in. You still have to go through a background check. You still have to show that you’re not going to be a public charge. Which again, is another issue that John Oliver mentioned about being a public charge, which is kind of a hot topic right now, especially with some of the statements that Ken Cuccinelli is making.

Jacob Tingen: And then finally, bad luck, the segment of immigrants who come here because they are refugees. And he’d mentioned refugees from Europe. He didn’t go into a deep dive on people coming from the South coming up to the US-Mexico border. I would also qualify those people as refugees. They definitely merit protection in our country, and they definitely fear returning to their home countries. So let’s break down kind of what he got right, and we’ll first approach his first organizational category, which is family based visas.

Jacob Tingen: And what he pointed out was this idea of chain migration that president Trump is fond of saying, is that the chain isn’t as long as I think people think it is. You can’t petition nieces and nephews, for example. And petitions for brothers, you can only do when you’re a citizen. Petitions for brothers and sisters take years upon years, and there’s such a backlog on these family based visa petitions that for many people, that just doesn’t even matter. And you know, if they get married, if they get divorced, your preference category can change. And there are these really strange rules that apply to these different situations. And we’ve talked about this already, about just the different visa wait times. But yeah, for many people, even if you are related to a US citizen, it’s going to take maybe 20 years or more.

Jacob Tingen: So, that’s probably the first thing to touch base on and say, yeah, he got that part right. I do think that there is a level of hypocrisy when people talk about, “Oh, chain migration is a bad thing.” John Oliver pointed this out. How he said people are partitioning for their parents, for goodness sake, their parents! And then the segments showed that Melania Trump’s own parents received lawful status in the US through her petition. And so, it’s just this kind of crazy idea that most people who know an immigrant and who know immigrants aren’t going to oppose legal immigration, and the family relationships that we allow people to petition for currently today as is. And so it’s interesting that this whole chain migration argument falls apart. One, just due to processing times. But two, anybody who’s a feeling, thinking individual is going to agree that, “Hey, if I’m a citizen, I can bring certain family members over with me.”

Jacob Tingen: And our current system, like I said, doesn’t allow distant relatives to come in. Doesn’t allow, as Trump said in one of his segments, the third niece from an ex-wife relationship. I don’t know what it was, but you can’t petition for your third niece from a former marriage. You can barely petition for your brother and sister because the wait times are so long. Yeah. So, he got in that segment right. Now, I want to turn to what he said about employment visas. We see a lot of the same problems in the employment visa that we see in the family based visa. There are huge wait times again, because we have a cap on the number of visas we issue each year as a country. And I thought it was neat that John Oliver came in on a O1 visa is a person with extraordinary ability in the arts.

Jacob Tingen: I thought that was really cool. Good for you, if you’re listening, good for the Last Week Tonight team. And I’m also glad that he got his green card. I believe you’re a citizen. I think that you’ve mentioned that on one of your shows. So, that’s excellent news obviously for us, and we gain a lot from that. So one of the things though that he did mention that was technically incorrect, or just not 100% accurate, was the idea that workers visas are temporary. So, I just want to kind of clarify that. Visas in the United States, I’ll divide them into two groups. There’s non-immigrant visas and there’s immigrant visas. A non immigrant visa is a “temporary visa.” A non-immigrant visa is for a limited period of time, and so a lot of employment visas are non-immigrant workers visas. They’re only authorized for a certain period of time.

Jacob Tingen: And then there are immigrant visas. So, all of the family based visas are immigrant visas. They’re termed immigrant visas because you are immigrating to the United States. But some of these employment-based visas are not immigrant visas because the idea is you are not immigrating permanently to the United States. So you are a non-immigrant, for whatever reason. That’s one of the classifications. Some employment visas are immigrant visas, and you don’t have to have a non-immigrant employment visa before your employer can sponsor you for a green card. But it just so happens that in many, many industries, the employer isn’t incentivized to sponsor you for a green card until you’ve worked for them for awhile. I personally believe that if our economy has found a need for you for the six years of, say, an H1B visa, the green card should almost be automatic because you’ve proven that our economy needs you.

Jacob Tingen: Why wouldn’t we let you stay at that point? And I think that the current system incentivizes employers telling employees that … Employers basically ejecting people who now have six years of experience and who can demand higher pay because of the experience they have. And instead, just hiring a new generation of entry level positions and paying them lower wages. So I think that that’s not great. And of course, there are employees who go out of the way to sponsor immigrants for green cards. As you know, John Stewart mentioned, The Daily Show totally helped him out with that process. It’s just kind of neat actually for me to see the inner workings of that on the back end, so thanks for sharing that.

Jacob Tingen: That’s basically the only kind of technical inaccuracy that I saw on the whole deal was that you don’t necessarily need the non-immigrant visa before you’re sponsored for an immigrant visa. But again, as a practical matter, that’s generally how it’s done. Okay. So then let’s talk about the good luck visas. I already mentioned just because you want a diversity visa doesn’t mean that you don’t have to go through the rest of the process. You still have to prove you’re not a terrorist. You still have to prove you’re not a communist. You still have to prove that you’re not going to be a public charge upon injury to the US. But generally, yeah, everything in that part of the segment was also true and correct. And then finally this whole bad luck portion, people who are coming because they’re refugees and fleeing from other places.

Jacob Tingen: The whole point of this podcast is to share news and information accurately about what’s going on in our current immigration system, but also to advocate on behalf of immigrants. And one of the groups of immigrants currently right now that needs more voices and needs more people to advocate for them is this bad luck group of immigrants, people who are fleeing dangerous conditions. Right now the world is seeing more migration than it’s seen in a very long time, and people are trying to get to where it’s safe. We should be proud to say that America is considered safe for so many people, and that they want to come here and contribute to our society. And so it’s sad that accurately this John Oliver segment portrayed that our government under the Trump administration is reducing the number of refugee visas. And I’m actually really saddened by the fact that they want to reduce it to zero.

Jacob Tingen: That is not the nation that we are. We are a nation of immigrants. And so, we should take both the good luck and the bad luck immigrants. We should take the family and the employment based immigrants. So, let’s talk then about what this segment means. I don’t know why they chose this, but why it’s important to be talking about this issue. So a lot of people say, “Well, I love legal immigration.” And all these Congressman, “Oh, I love legal immigration.” But then every action they take limits legal immigration. Well, guess what? We make the laws, we determine what’s legal. Government by the people, right? Our laws are not very good. Our immigration laws need to be changed. They are not adequately addressing, one, the demand. And two, the need that we have for immigrants, both highly skilled and frankly unskilled.

Jacob Tingen: And I’ll say this about unskilled immigrants or refugee immigrants, or people who don’t necessarily economically benefit our nation. As a people, we benefit from having opportunities to serve new people who come into our communities. And so we absolutely benefit from having this opportunity to help out people in our schools, in our communities as they flee from harm and suffering. And, we can learn a lot about ourselves by how we respond to these bad luck immigrants. So if you’re in charge of making laws, we need to make the laws easier. I’ve wondered and pondered a little bit recently about what we can do to improve our immigration laws. And I think most people would agree that we probably just need to make the system streamlined. That’s a fancy word that people use. But frankly, it just needs to be easier. And if we decide to let more people in legally, then more people will come legally.

Jacob Tingen: None of the immigrants that I talked to are proud of the fact that they don’t have legal status. Most of them want to have legal status and would have come that way if it had been an option for them, but it just simply was not. And so that is the problem we need to solve, and that’s a problem we can solve as we look at our laws and say, “Okay, what we’re doing is not right.” You know? And what is the specific answer? Who really knows? Maybe we make it easier to get residency, but harder to get citizenship. I don’t know. That’s a potential compromise.

Jacob Tingen: But we can’t go around saying, “Oh, people need to come legally,” and then close every avenue for them to do so. We can’t tell people, “Get in line,” and then say the line ends here. So that’s it for Nation of Immigrants. Thank you for listening. I hope you follow us on iTunes. I hope that you check us out also on, where you can view all of the past episodes. You can also check our YouTube channel for that as well. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and then also don’t forget you can donate to support the podcast at We are working on setting up the 501(c)(3). We want to take funds donated to the podcast and use those funds to help pay off immigrants’ legal bills. So anyway, thanks again for listening. Have a great one.

Announcer: Thank you for listening to Nation of Immigrants.

President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

Announcer: Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Watch the live stream on YouTube and Facebook, or visit to learn more.

Share This Post

Related Articles

Fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch within 1 business day!

Are you ready for a superior client experience?

We’re a Richmond, Virginia law firm with clients from around the world. Schedule your consultation today and let’s talk about what we can do for you!