Immigration reforms may soon change the way individuals are able to immigrate to the USA through family members. The proposals bring hope to those separated from family for lengthy periods of time, and for married individuals such as same-sex couples who are presently denied US immigration benefits.
Family-based immigration is at the heart of America's immigration system. After all, US immigration laws were devised to keep families together, and prevent lengthy separations between US citizens or lawful permanent residents and their non-US family members.
While clearly outlined in theory, the policy of minimising lengthy family separation often fails in practice. For instance, spouses of lawful permanent residents currently immigrating to the USA have had to wait over 2 years to join their spouses in the US. The situation becomes even more dire for married sons and daughters of US citizens who have waited, on average, over 11 years to join their parent in the USA, although some married sons and daughters from high-demand countries such as the Philippines have had to wait over 20 years to reunite with their US family. When it comes to brothers and sisters of US citizens, those from the Philippines must currently wait 23 years to join their siblings in the USA.
The reason for these lengthy wait times (which are subject to change at any time as processing times change) is the preference-based system applicable to family-based US immigration. An exception exists for "immediate relatives" of US citizens who are given the highest priority under US immigration laws and have an immigrant visa immediately available to them. You can read more about family-based immigration here.
On 13 February 2013, the Reuniting Families Act Bill was re-introduced by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) in an effort to promote family unity. Among its provisions, the Bill provides for:
- The re-classification of spouses and children of lawful permanent residents as "immediate relatives", thereby prioritising their immigration and significantly reducing the time that parents must be separated from children, and spouses from their partners;
- The ability of same-sex bi-national couples to receive immigration benefits on the same terms as opposite-sex couples;
- Recapturing immigrant visas lost due to bureaucratic delays;
- Increasing per country limits to ease backlogs in family-based immigrant visas; and
- Allowing widows/ widowers and orphans to immigrate to the USA despite the petitioner's death;
The American Immigration Law Office will monitor immigration reforms as they go into effect and update any affected clients.