The history of immigration in the United States has been a complex and ever-changing web of policies, preferences, and debates. Depending on which President is in power, even the same policies can be emphasized in different ways, leaving the task of understanding family immigration to be a difficult one.
Today’s family immigration policies are part of a long history of legal changes that have developed over time — often with conflicting goals. Working through the complexities can be frustrating for families hoping to use the policies to gain access to lawful permanent residency or eventual citizenship. Here, you’ll learn some key details about how the current policies developed and how you can use them.
1. Current Family Immigration Policy has a Complex Beginning
Tom Gjelten, the author of A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, explains that America’s current family immigration policy has its roots in the 1960s. At the time, a conservative Democrat from Ohio and a member of Congress named Michael Feighan wanted to prioritize immigrants from Europe. The policy at the time was moving toward merit-based immigration, and Feighan successfully argued for a compromise that would give preferential treatment to immigrants with family members already residing in the U.S.
Feighan’s intention was to prioritize European immigrants. As Gjelten explains, “In 1960, 7 of 8 immigrants were still coming from Europe. But that was already beginning to change. Nobody realized it, but the demand to migrate was shifting to the developing world. And this has continued. So by 2010, 9 out of 10 immigrants are coming from outside Europe.”
2. Family Immigration has Become More Complicated
Over the years, family immigration has become a popular way for multiple family members to migrate to the United States. As Gjelten puts it, this policy is “just a natural way” for immigration to occur. People who are new to a country generally live with family. In fact, Gjelten found this was true for 90% of the immigrants he researched. Family connections allow new immigrants a familiar way to connect with their new communities and find the resources they need to build their lives.
At the same time, family immigration has drawn scrutiny from those who would prefer a merit-based immigration system. Because of these debates, the current family immigration policies have become much more complicated.
3. There are Two Types of Family Immigration Visas
There are two kinds of visas available under the family immigration policy. There are important distinctions between the two, especially the limits placed on them for each fiscal year.
Immediate Relative– These are available to those who have a close family relationship with a U.S. citizen (spouse, child, or parent). These visas are not limited.
Family Preference– These are available to those who have a more distant relationship with a U.S. citizen or a relationship with a Lawful Permanent Resident. These visas are limited each year, and those limits may change from year-to-year.
4. U.S. Citizens have More Options than Lawful Permanent Residents
The relatives who are eligible for family immigration visas are different depending on whether the person applying is a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident. A U.S. citizen is able to file a petition for a spouse, son or daughter, parent, and brother or sister. A Lawful Permanent Resident, however, can only file a petition for a spouse or an unmarried son or daughter. A U.S. citizen can file a petition for a married child, but those petitions are in a lower priority category.
5. There is an Age Requirement for the Sponsoring Relative
Those who are planning to sponsor an immediate relative through family immigration must not only qualify as a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident; they also must meet the age requirement of 21 years of age or older.
6. There is a Preference Order for Relatives Using Family Immigration
There is a preferential order in which relatives of those applying for family immigration visas are processed. The spouse, minor child, or parent of a U.S. citizen is always in the unlimited immediate relative category. After that, the following preferential order is in effect:
- First preference (F1): unmarried children (over 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens
- Second preference (F2A): spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age of Lawful Permanent Residents
- Second preference (F2B): unmarried children over 21 years of age of Lawful Permanent Residents
- Third preference (F3): married children of U.S. citizens
- Fourth preference (F4): brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens
When you are using the family immigration system to bring a loved one into the United States, you’ll likely have many questions. The system is complex and full of specific details that can change over time. Having an experienced attorney who stays up-to-date on the current policies and who can clearly explain them while helping you navigate the process will provide peace of mind and clarity.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation.