These days, there’s a lot of misinformation being spread about so-called “chain migration,” a term that opponents of legal immigration use to attack the government’s Family Reunification policy. The term “chain migration” is often used to dishonestly imply that recent immigrants to the United States can easily bring dozens of distant relatives to join them in the U.S. It’s time to clear away the myths and misinformation so we can all understand how Family Reunification actually works. To begin with, here are a few basic facts:
- In 2016, over 1.18 million immigrants became new lawful permanent residents of the United States. 68% of those immigrants, or about 800,000, received Family Reunification visas allowing them to join family members in the United States.
- There are two broad categories of family visas. The first category is the Immediate Relative Visa. An immediate relative is defined as the spouse, unmarried child under age 21, or parent of a U.S. citizen; these visas are only available to parents if their U.S. citizen child is at least 21 years old. It typically takes the government about a year to process and approve these visa applications.
- The second category, the Family Preference Visa, is for non-immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, or certain relatives of lawful permanent residents who live in the U.S. These visas are available to the adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, siblings of U.S. citizens, and spouses and unmarried children of lawful permanent residents.
- The number Family Preference Visas that can be issued each year is capped at 226,000, with additional caps on different visa categories. This has created a huge backlog for these visas; depending on their category, prospective immigrants are likely to have to wait anywhere from 6 to 25 years before a visa is available for them.
- Family relationships other than those mentioned above do NOT allow people to receive Family Reunification visas. U.S. citizens and permanent residents are NOT allowed to file immigration petitions on behalf of their grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, or cousins.
- Immigrants who become U.S. citizens can file immigrant petitions for their relatives, just like any other citizen. However, most immigrants are not allowed to apply for American citizenship until they have been lawful permanent residents of the United States for at least 5 years.
- This has been only a brief look at the basic of family-based immigration, but it’s enough to give you an idea of who’s allowed to immigrate to the United States with a family reunification visa, as well as how long that process can take.