Immigration Family Guide

Immigrating to a new country is not an easy endeavor, and this is not only in reference to the legal aspects of immigration. The processes, the forms, the waiting periods, the fees, yes, all of these can be very confusing and frustrating. However, the most troublesome part is in leaving one familiar place to permanently reside elsewhere, a place with a different language and different culture than yours. For immigrants, everything is strange and new, and though this might be the very thing that is exciting about moving to a new place, for many immigrants, the circumstances have been less than ideal.

Having the company of family may be the only thing that makes immigration less difficult.

Immigration Based on Family

Immigrating to the U.S. today depends largely on family relationships. This is due to significant immigration reform in the second half of the 20th century. In the first half of the 1900s, immigration to the U.S. was low because of the laws Congress passed after World War I. The Immigration Act of 1921, also referred to as the Emergency Immigration Act, was put in place to reduce immigration from southern and eastern Europe by creating limits based on how many immigrants from those regions were already in the U.S. In 1924, a new act carried the official quota system. This legislation created a drop in immigration. The Great Depression, which took place in the 1930s, also helped to keep immigration low, for this was a time when U.S. experienced massive unemployment. Consequently, the number of foreign nationals who obtained permanent residency decreased from 8,202,388 between 1909 and 1919 to 699,375 from 1930 to 1939.

Immigration remained low during the time of World War II, but this is the time when some of the laws that excluded certain groups began to change. Since the Chinese were in alliance with the U.S. during the war, the Chinese Exclusion of 1882 was repealed. Chinese started being allowed to become naturalized citizens in 1943, but there was still a limit of naturalizations of only 105 Chinese per year. The shortage of workers during the war forced the U.S. government to bring in Mexican agricultural laborers. The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 set up an overall limit for each country of immigration and set up a system that gave preferences to certain countries over others.

This all changed with the Hart-Celler Act, which is also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The civil rights legislation of 1964 influenced legislators to revise U.S. immigration policy. Congress took away the national origins quota and created a preference system based on family. The Immigration and Nationality Act went into effect in 1968. This gave way to a rise in immigration.

The principal objective of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is today still in place, is to keep families together. The family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents receive preference over any other immigration process. Even with deportation proceedings or any sort of legal restrictions to prevent U.S. immigration, programs of relief are only available to the immediate relative of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. For example, an immediate relative can under most circumstance always be allowed to switch his status to permanent resident even if he has had unauthorized employment, has not maintained continuous lawful presence or has otherwise violated the terms of his visa.

Immediate Relatives

The immediate relatives of U.S. citizens have Green Cards available to them without any limitations. This means that there are no numerical limits, that there is no cutoff point that allows only a certain amount of Green Cards to be issued. Immediate relatives are the spouses and unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens, the parents of U.S. citizens over the age of 21 and certain widows and widowers of U.S. citizens who have passed away.

Family-Sponsored Preference

The availability of Green Cards for family members under the family-sponsored preference varies depending on the country of origin. People from the Philippines, Mexico and India will face a longer waiting period than people from other countries because of the large number of requests from these three places in particular. The family-sponsored preference system has four categories:

    1) unmarried and over-the-age-of-21 sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
    2) spouses and children of U.S permanent residents
    3) married and over-the-age-of-21 sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
    4) brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens over the age of 21. This last category, brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, has the longest waiting period out of all four categories.

Applying for Family-Based Immigration

The related immigration forms are the following:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which the U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident files on the behalf of the family member seeking to immigrate.

  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, which is a contract the U.S. citizen files promising to financially-support the family member seeking to immigrate.

  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, which the family member seeking to immigrate files if he or she is already in the U.S. but does not yet have permanent resident status.

If the family member seeking to immigrate is outside the U.S., he or she petitions for a visa at the closest U.S. consulate.