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What Is Chain Migration, and Why Does the Green Card Lottery Matter?

What is Chain Migration?

From our country's founding until the 1880s, US borders were considered 100% open.

While this isn't strictly true - the Naturalization Act of 1790 excluded the free movement of people of color or slaves - based on the beliefs of our country's founding fathers, entrance into the United States was essentially open to anyone.

Over the years, immigration policy changed - sometimes for the better, and sometimes in ways that were wholly xenophobic - such as in the case of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Today, immigration law is once again on the proverbial hot-seat.

The framework for new immigration laws set forth by the Trump White House sets out to eliminate some of our country's core immigration policies, which has sparked intense debate both in Congress and on the streets.

Here's some background about two of the essential immigration programs that the Trump Administration hopes to do away with.

What Is Chain Migration?

"Chain Migration" is a negative term used for family-based migration, or a type of immigration where one sponsor's one own family member - usually a spouse, parent, child or sibling - for a family-based green card. In his January 30th State of the Union speech, Trump attacked this kind of family-based immigration, which his supporters have come to call "Chain Migration."

"Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives," said Trump of family-based immigration. "Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children."

While what Trump said in his speech wasn't strictly true - neither U.S. citizens nor lawful permanent residents can directly petition for an aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, in-law relative or grandparent to come to the United States - his sentiment did illustrate a common feeling among his supporters: That so-called chain migration is allowing for "too many" immigrants to enter the US.

Family-based immigration became the United States' main immigration policy with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Enacted shortly after the Civil Rights Act passed, the Immigration and Nationality Act abolished previous national-origins quotas that limited immigrants by country.

With the Civil Rights Act, the use of “national origin” as a way to exclude people became a prohibited form of discrimination, which meant immigration policy had to change.

The Act was initiated by President John Kennedy, who wrote a corresponding pamphlet entitled “A Nation of Immigrants," and it created the structure of an immigration system based on preferences for family reunification.

Currently, family-based green cards can be sponsored by current Green Card holders for their spouses and unmarried children, including unmarried sons and daughters over 21 years old. For U.S. citizens, the list expands to include parents, married sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters - although there is a hierarchy, and some relatives are in for a hefty wait.

Waiting periods for a sibling visa, for example, is over 13 years.

Theoretically, one immigrant’s arrival in the United States could lead to the immigration of an aunt, uncle or cousin — if the first immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen and petitioned a parent, that parent could eventually become a U.S. citizen and petition his or her siblings, who could in turn, petition for their own children. However, with current wait times for family-based visas being so high, that might take a lifetime.

While critics of family-based immigration might be inclined to believe Trump's no-so-factual claims, supporters see family-based immigration as a cornerstone to American culture.

So what Is chain migration, to immigrants? In an opinion piece published by the Washington Post, a Former Bush White House Staffer shares how "chain immigration" saved his family, and contributed positively to his family's ability to both serve the country and lead successful lives.

Typically, both Republicans and Democrats agree on family values as being an integral part of American society, which has left many Democrats and supporters of family-based immigration curious as to why Trump would want to eliminate US Citizens and Residents from supporting their close relatives for visas.

Should We Have a Green Card Lottery?

Another program that Trump aims to eliminate from US Immigration law is the "Diversity Visa Program," more commonly known as the Green Card Lottery.

The Green Card Lottery is a program that works on a random lottery for applicants from countries that do not send large numbers of immigrants to the U.S. through other programs. While it was originally intended to benefit Irish and Italian immigrants, who were restricted from immigrating by a 1965 Immigration Act, it is actually mainly used now by immigrants from Africa and Central Asia.

The US gives Green Cards to about one million people a year. The Green Card Lottery allows for about 50,000 people, or about 5% of the immigration stream.

According to Muzaffar Chishti, a director of the Migration Policy Institute, "About 20,000 go to European countries, 20,000 go to African countries and about 8,000 go to Asian countries. That's been the mix."

No family connection is needed, no employer or sponsor. It's simply a matter of luck.

According to Trump, it is "A program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of American people."

Chishti sees it from the other side. "It is much more consistent with the founding of our country, that people who just have a lot of gumption can succeed well." -----

Immigrants and citizens alike await anxiously to see what sort of agreement will come out of this immigration debate.

If you have any questions about your legal status, the status of family members or your options for legal immigration to the US (including family-based green cards), please contact us and we will help you better understand your options.