By Ling-Mei Wong
Asian American citizens trying to bring overseas family members to the States may face setbacks under proposed immigration reform changes. The Senate bill passed on June 27 would eliminate visa categories for siblings and adult children older than 32 after 18 months, striking a blow for family reunification. The bill is pending review by the House of Representatives.
“We’re disappointed about these changes because they have a significant impact on the Asian American community. It’s not just affecting the Chinese, as the Vietnamese, South Asian and Filipino communities rely on the sibling category,” said Erin Oshiro, immigration attorney for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC. Advancing Justice-AAJC is a national human and civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.
There are 17 million Asian Americans living in the United States, according to census data. Nearly 2 million Asians are in the family sponsorship process, which has a significant backlog due to visa quotas by country and other numerical limits. Meanwhile, more than 1 million Asians are undocumented.
“Family reunification makes our economy stronger,” Oshiro said. “Families support each other emotionally and financially. Family members are a source of capital to start businesses and buy homes. They provide child care and contribute economically so people can go to work. We need more visas for family members so they stay together.”
The limit on family-based visas for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents would be lifted. U.S. citizens can sponsor their parents with no numerical limits, but green card holders cannot petition for their parents.
A new point-based system in the Senate bill changes how some family members or workers to get visas. Point criteria include educational attainment, work experience, English fluency and whether the individual is related to a U.S. citizen. People with the most points would get visas.
“Our concerns are about where in the world people come from, along with whether they are a woman or man,” Oshiro said. “If a woman from a poor country is unable to go to school, she may not qualify for a point-based visa.”
While some family visas would be cut, H-1B visas for highly skilled workers would be increased. Currently, more family visas are allotted than business visas.
“We hear members of Congress ask why we give visas to family members, when we should give visas to workers to start the next Google,” Oshiro said.
One change in the Senate bill is the new V visa for family members who have applied for residency. It allows some family members to come to the United States to wait and work until a visa is available, unlike current laws that often keep them out of the country until a family visa is available.
“We would certainly hope anything that came out of the House would be as good as or better than the Senate bill, which was a compromise in terms of family reunification,” Oshiro said. “It cannot get worse for families. This is devastating for us and other communities.”
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