The Value of Family-Based Immigration

Greg Chen and Diane Rish
Date of Publication: 
January, 2018
Source Organization: 

The Trump administration seeks to make drastic cuts to America's family-based immigration system and uses the pejorative term "chain migration" to refer to the immigration of close family members. This paper from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) describes the categories of relatives who are eligible to come to the U.S. through the family immigration system and the various hoops they must jump through before being awarded an immigrant visa. The paper discusses the caps in the various preference categories, the limited number of visas available, and the lengthy wait a typical immigrant must endure before obtaining a visa. In doing so, the authors put into context the Trump administration's insinuation that immigrants are coming here and bringing in distant relatives in an unending chain. For example, the paper notes that the U.S. government is currently granting green cards for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens who filed applications more than 13 years ago. Looking at the number of siblings of U.S. citizens currently waiting for a visa, AILA estimates that someone applying today will have to wait 36 years for a visa. The paper points out that most immigrants throughout American history have come as the result of family ties. The paper briefly discusses the economic importance of family-based immigrants, who are generally of prime working age when they arrive in the U.S. and whose relatives often facilitate their economic integration (by, for example, making it possible to start or grow a business). AILA notes that eliminating or significantly reducing the ability of immigrants to bring family members will make it more difficult to attract immigrants with high-demand skills (since people are reluctant to leave family members behind). Elimination of legal channels will also be a future driver of undocumented immigration as families who want to be together will have no legal options. (Maurice Belanger, Maurice Belanger Associates)

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Chen, G., & Rish, D. (2018). The Value of Family-Based Immigration (Policy Brief No. 18010833). Washington, D.C.: American Immigration Lawyers Association. Retrieved from