Family Visa Backlog – Congress Takes a First Step Towards Reform

Today, Congress embarked on figuring out what to do about family immigration, particular the visa backlog that has become synonymous with family immigration to the United States.  Should Congress do away with certain family preference categories in order to help manage the nuclear family?  If Congress agrees that the nuclear family should take priority over all other family arrangements, then how will it revise the immigration system to meet that priority? Today’s hearing comprised of the following witnesses:

  • Randall Emery, President of the American Families United
  • Mathi Mugilan Paguth Arivalan, Legal Permanent Resident
  • Demetrios Papademetriou, President Migration Policy Institute
  • Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, Director, National Council of La Raza

The Second Preference F2A Category

Each year, the Department of State allocates 115,000 visas under the Second Preference Category.  This preference category is currently experiencing a backlog of about 700,000, as indicated by the Migration Policy Institute’s testimony.  The data is derived from the Department of State’s National Visa Center and excludes filings that are sent to the USCIS, which is believed to be a much larger number. The Migration Policy Institute has been conducting migration studies from around the world for years, looking at each country’s immigration policy and how “nimble” those policies are to migration issues.  In comparison to other countries, the extended waiting periods imposed on LPRs and their nuclear families in the U.S. is “unique.”  [That’s certainly putting it lightly.] Most importantly, it is precisely these long waiting periods that incentivize individuals to break U.S. immigration laws.  In fact, Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asked what the country had to gain by separating wives and husbands and parents from their children.  Mr. Papademetriou commented that, “Separating spouses and children is unnatural.”

Reducing the F2A Visa Backlog

The American Families United testified on their goal to unite nuclear families in the U.S., be it spouses and children of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, mainly in reference to the F2A visa preference category.  Its desire is to have Congress fold the F2A category into the Immediate Relatives category, in order to eliminate any waiting period for spouses and children of legal permanent residents.  This recommendation was also favored by the Migration Policy Institute, and surprisingly, well-received by Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID). The current waiting period for those in this category are roughly two years but even longer for families in certain countries, like Mexico and the Philippines. The other alternative, recommended by the Migration Policy Institute, is to revise the “V” non-immigrant visa to allow for spouses and unmarried children of LPRs to come to the U.S. by removing certain provisions in that were written into the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act of 2000.

Temporary Workers Get Better Treatment

The disparity of encouraging nuclear families amongst temporary workers and legal permanent residents is wide.  Temporary workers are allowed to have their children and spouses join them in the U.S. at any point during their temporary assignment in the U.S.  Meanwhile, an LPR who is single and later marries a foreign national may not have their foreign spouses or children join them right away.  LPRs must wait endure the current wait times set by the Department of State.

Inclusive of all Groups

The National Council of La Raza was eager to remind the Representatives that an immigration bill should also include pathways for all kinds of families, including same-sex couples.  The issue of same-sex couples has yet to be officially addressed in any immigration proposal.

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Time will tell how Congress receives the above testimony and how it will be incorporated, if at all, into a comprehensive immigration bill.  Have comments?  We’d love to hear from you.