Lawmakers considering a move away from family-based immigration

The American immigration system has long been focused on keeping families together. In a typical situation, one family member might immigrate to the United States and then petition for immediate family members to come over as well. While employment-based immigration is also available, it has generally been much more limited in scope.

This may soon change, if a proposal working its way through Congress becomes law. The legislation seeks to change the focus of the U.S. immigration system in order to attract individuals who have a high probability of succeeding economically once they get settled.

As such, the legislation would allow green cards to be given to an unlimited number of so-called "high achievers." This class of individuals includes professors, scientists, business executives and people with doctoral degrees. These green cards would be available to prospective immigrants from any country.

In order to make up for these new permanent residents, the proposal would eliminate some existing pathways for family-based immigration. Specifically, it would limit the ability of U.S. citizens to petition to bring siblings and adult children to America. However, if the bill does become law, federal authorities will work to expedite the applications of individuals who are on waiting lists for family-based immigration.

Shift intended to aid economy

Proponents of the legislation argue that the United States should be focused on attracting immigrants who can help grow the economy. Some lawmakers have long worried that allowing a significant number of immigrants with limited education or job skills hurt the playing field for American workers. In addition, the legislation has drawn the support of tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft, who say they are having a difficult time finding enough qualified American workers. Currently, the limits on employment-based visas make it difficult for some companies to recruit workers from overseas.

It is important to note, however, that the shift toward an employment-based immigration system won't just impact high-merit workers. The legislation would also allow more low-skill temporary workers into the country and allow them to stay longer. These immigrants are regularly sought for agricultural and service-industry jobs.

Still, many immigrant advocates are worried about limiting family-based immigration options. They say that a focus on merit-based immigration would limit opportunities for economically disadvantaged people. They are especially worried that the shift could harm women whose home countries deny them they ability to get an education.

Working with an immigration attorney

The proposal is part of a comprehensive immigration reform package that is currently being considered by the House and Senate. A compromise between the two chambers could be reached as early as this summer.

Regardless of the outcome of the legislation, this debate highlights just how complex the U.S. immigration system can be. If you are trying to immigrate to the United States - or if you are trying to help a loved one or potential employee seek legal status in the United States - it is important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney. An attorney will be able to help you identify the best pathways for immigration while ensuring that you stay in compliance with all federal regulations.