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Family visa limits in reform bill trouble Asian American groups

"This is the most far-reaching, invasive and detrimental proposal for immigration reform on the Asian American community in at least the last four to six decades," according to former California state assemblyman Mike Eng, who is now an immigration attorney.

The problem? Both the Senate and House versions of the current immigration reform proposals would sharply limit family-based immigration in favor of high-skilled workers who offer a more immediate economic benefit to the U.S. That affects the Asian American community more than other groups because nearly half of all applicants for family-based visas are from Asia, according to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Under the version of the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June, naturalized U.S. citizens and green card holders would no longer be allowed to sponsor their siblings or married children for permanent residency. While the House plan is less complete, it would also do away with sibling visas. Neither plan affects visas for spouses or unmarried children.

In response to this threat to family-based immigration, a number of Asian American advocacy groups are urging those considering sponsoring relatives for family immigration not to put it off.

"We're saying file now, if you're thinking about it," the head of an LA-based Asian American group told reporters in a press conference Tuesday. "Then you'll be in line if a bill passes and diminishes the ability to file."

The existing family-visa processing backlog at the USCIS has already limited real opportunities for family-based immigration. Waiting times to get visas for family members in lower-preference groups is more than two decades, in some cases. With married same-sex couples now eligible, the processing wait time could grow even longer.

Under existing U.S. immigration law, sponsored family members are categorized by “preference,” meaning the preference of the U.S. government. Higher-preference relatives stand a greater chance of success, while lower-preference relatives can be subject to annual quotas.

Unmarried children under age 21 sponsored by U.S. citizen parents are considered “first preference,” for example, while unmarried children under age 21 sponsored by green card holders are “second preference.” The third- and fourth- preference groups include relatives such as married, adult children of citizens and green card holders, and siblings of U.S. citizens at least 21 years old.

Family immigration isn’t just an Asian American issue, of course. The restrictions on family visa sponsorship have been challenged from a number of angles. The upshot is that this is good advice. Don’t wait to apply for family-based immigration, or you might lose your chance altogether.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Asians urged to apply for family visas, in case they're done away with,” Cindy Chang, July 30, 2013