Immediate Relatives and Preference Category Wait Times
The immigration and Nationality Act (INA) restricts the classification of “immediate relatives” to the following persons: children, spouses, and parents of United States Citizens (USC). Siblings of USCs are noticeably absent from this list.
To be classified as an immediate relative means that you are not subject to a numerical limit within the overall cap of immigrant visas issued per year, or put into a preference category, which typically results in absurdly long wait times for processing.
As immediate relatives, parents of USCs have immigrant visas available upon submission of a qualifying petition. But what happens to the minor children of those parents who are not USCs and not classified as immediate relatives? They are forced into a preference category and told to wait up to 17 years before processing.
The result is that many parents of USCs who would otherwise qualify for immediate processing are forced to either delay their own application to coincide with their children’s priority date, or separate the family with one parent coming to the United States and one waiting with the additional children aboard. The result of either choice is in opposite to the goal of family unity, oft touted as the purpose behind many exceptions to our current immigration policy. Consider this example:
Mary is a United States Citizen who was born in Mexico. Her parents and her younger brother, age 10, still live in Mexico. Under the INA, Mary’s parents are her immediate relatives, and they can apply for residency with no delay. Mary’s brother, however, is not considered an immediate relative. As such, he is placed into a preference category and subject to a 17-year wait.
Obviously, Mary’s parents cannot leave their 10-year-old son alone in Mexico. Therefore they are faced with the following choices: (1) leave their son in Mexico with a friend or family member; (2) wait to process their own applications until their son is eligible; or (3) have one parent wait in Mexico with Mary’s brother while one comes to the U.S. All three choices require separation of the family unit.
This problem can easily be fixed. Siblings could be classified as immediate relatives or an exception could be created for minor children that would allow qualifying siblings to enter as derivative beneficiaries on their parent’s applications. Or, more universally, the cap could be raised so that ALL preference category aliens could immigrate ”legally” without have to suffer exceedingly long wait times. This is simple reform that would keep families together.