Immigration reform bill would work through the family-based visa backlog

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Reuniting families has been a focus of U.S. immigration policy for several decades, and it is possible for some people to obtain a visa to live in the U.S. through a family member who is a citizen or lawful permanent resident. Limits on the number of these visas that can be granted have led to some very long periods of separation, however, as some relatives wait years to obtain a visa. One provision of the immigration reform bill currently proposed in the Senate would help clear the backlog of petitions for family-based and employment-based visas, though, helping family members to finally live together in the U.S.

Family-based visas or green cards

It is possible for someone living in the U.S. as a citizen or lawful permanent resident to petition for a family member in another country to obtain a visa, or green card, to live in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. Depending on the family relationship, these relatives are given different levels of priority.

Spouses, unmarried children under age 21, adopted orphans and parents of a U.S. citizen (if the citizen is over age 21) have the highest level priority and do not need to wait long for a visa because the number of these visas for "immediate relatives" of U.S. citizens is not limited. Brothers and sisters, unmarried children over age 21 and married children of any age of a U.S. citizen fall into the "family member" category, and there are a limited number of these visas available. Further, a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. may petition for a family member to obtain a green card, but the wait can again be very long.

The number of visas available for family members - but not immediate relatives - of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents is capped for each country, so people wishing to immigrate from countries with large numbers of people seeking family-based visas often experience incredibly long delays while they wait for a visa to become available. NBC News reported statistics from the U.S. Department of State that show that people from Mexico, China and India experience the longest waiting periods. For unmarried children of U.S. citizens from Mexico, for example, the reported waiting time is an almost-unbelievable 20 years.

Immigration bill addresses backlog

A provision in the Senate's immigration reform bill would work through the backlog of family-based and employment-based visa applications, however, processing the entire backlog over a decade. This action would help many of the estimated 4.4 million people on the waiting list to be reunited with their loved ones in the U.S.

If you have questions on family-based visas, the possible impact of this proposed legislation or other immigration matters, contact an experienced immigration lawyer for more information.