Family-Based Immigration May Change In the Future

Posted on May 22, 2007 by Warren Wen | Category: Immigration

Agreement Reached by Republicans and Democrats Reignites Hopes for Immigrant Communities

The key senators from both parties and the White House announced on May 17, 2007, that they would grant quick legal status to millions of illegal immigrants already in the U.S. on an immigration overhaul.  How will the agreement influence the immigration reform?  And how does it influence people who want to get legal status in the U.S.?

In general, the compromise reached by the parties includes three parts: fortifying the border, a temporary worker program, and creating a way for the illegal aliens to adjust their status legally.

Fortifying the border is the key point for the immigration reform because it is closely connected with national security, which has been the most important issue since September 11.  Thus, both parties do not want to propose any immigration reform that risks being regarded as undermining the national security.

The temporary worker program aims to deal with the labor shortage in the U.S.  The agreement also plans to create a separate program to cover agricultural workers.  The plan showed that the skills and the education-level for the first time would be weighted over the family connections in deciding whether future immigrants should get a permanent legal status or not.

Additionally, the proposed agreement would allow illegal immigrants to come forward and obtain a “Z visa” and — after paying the fees and a $5,000 fine — ultimately get on a track for permanent residency, which could take between 8 and 13 years.

If the agreement finally becomes a law, it would provide an opportunity for the aliens to get legal status in the U.S.  At this point, however, it only provides a base for both parties to negotiate.  With the debate moving to the House and the Senate, the contents of the bill may change significantly.  Thus, the perspective of the immigration reform is not as optimistic as most people hoped for.  The most important message sent out by this agreement is that the U.S. society strongly requires the immigration reform and both parties recognize it.

However, we should notice that it would not be easy to make a breakthrough on the immigration reform issue in the short-term.  As we have mentioned above, the immigration reform is closely related to national security, which has been a very sensitive issue since September 11.  Neither party wants to be viewed as being weak in the issue of national security.  For the forces or groups that oppose any kind of immigration reform, the best way to attack the immigration reform would be to label it as being weak on national security and nice to terrorists.  In this way, all the progress made on the immigration reform could easily be derailed.  For the past couples of years, this has happened repeatedly.

Finally, it is worth noting that the agreement reached has sent out a strong signal that family-based immigration may change significantly in the coming years.  For the first time, the proposed plan would shift from an immigration system which is primarily weighted towards family ties to one that puts preference on people with advanced degrees and sophisticated skills.  Historically, the U.S. immigration system has focused on ‘family unity’.  With the ever growing challenge of labor shortage and aged population, employment-based immigration has become more and more important in the U.S. immigration system in order to increase the labor force the U.S. needs.  This issue has been discussed for a while, but this is the first time it is being put on the table.  In addition, the U.S. government is making real efforts to set a limit on family-based immigration.  Readers who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, or whose family members or relatives want to immigrate to the US, need to think about this change more carefully and file the application with the USCIS as soon as possible.  Otherwise, the door to family-based immigration may no longer be open as wide as it was before, once the agreement becomes a law.

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