Proposed Immigration Law Changes Miss Larger Picture

Proposed changes to the country’s immigration laws would significantly restrict family visas in order to make more room for in-demand employment visas. Those changes are contained in an immigration-reform bill that was cleared by the Senate in June 2013. The bill includes several visa restrictions, and specifically calls for the elimination of the family-based visa system that allows adult siblings of American citizens to immigrate to this country. However, the proposed changes are already triggering stringent criticism, especially from the Asian American community in this country.

The immigration reform bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernisation Act was introduced in May 2013. Later that month, the Senate voted to send the bill to the floor for a vote. The bill was approved by the Senate in June, and seeks to eliminate not just visas for adult siblings of Americans, but also places a cap on adult married children of US citizens, seeking green cards. Under the current law, there is no age limit by which American citizens must sponsor a green card for their adult married sons and daughters. However, if this bill is passed and does become law, married children who have reached the age of 31, will no longer be eligible for a green card sponsorship by their parents. The bill must be approved by Congress, and must be signed into law by the President for it to become law. The changes will be phased in approximately 18 months after the bill becomes law.

These changes are likely to dramatically impact several immigrant groups, especially the Asian American community. Asian Americans tend to sponsor siblings and other members of the family quite heavily, and those freedoms will be dramatically curtailed if the bill is passed, and some family -based visas are eliminated. In 2012, according to statistics by the Senior State Department, siblings and adult married sons and daughters of US citizens accounted for approximately 16.2% of the total number of green cards issued to immigrants on a family basis. Out of these, there were more than 58,000 immigrants who obtained visas in the sibling category. More than 19,000 immigrants obtained visas in the married children category.

These immigrant concerns, however, may not receive much attention in the Senate. There is increasing consensus among American lawmakers that the numbers of family visas being issued need to be curtailed, in order to make more room for employment-based visas to kick start the country’s economy once again. Currently, only approximately 14% of people who obtain visas are in the United States for employment purposes, while more than 65% of legal immigrants are here on family visas.

Lawmakers want that situation to change because they want an influx of highly skilled foreign workers, instead of family members and siblings who may or may not contribute to the American economy. Lawmakers are increasingly making it clear that they are in favor of an immigration system that moves away from the current chain system which brings in multiple family members of a single person, to an economics-based system that will open the doors for highly skilled workers to enter the U.S. They cite shortages of highly skilled workers in this country as one of the reasons for their choice.

That however, is a myopic way of looking at the picture. To assume that persons who are in the United States on family visas will not contribute any economic benefits, and will not help boost the economy, is to ignore the larger picture. Some of the communities that are likely to be very heavily affected by these changes, like Asian-Americans, contribute significantly to the American economy, and their lives will be significantly impacted by this change.

For most Asian-Americans, who are concerned about these immigration changes, the main concern is about the inability to have family members, like siblings, over to provide a support system. Asian-Americans are typically heavy business investors, with a strong entrepreneurial streak. The family support system has provided a solid and firm foundation for these communities to base their entrepreneurial ambitions on. Besides, family members also very often provide valuable childcare for Asian-Americans, who also tend to be highly educated, and are often employed in the professional services.

Asian-American groups have been raising their voices against the bill, and advocacy groups have begun lobbying against any such legislation. The changes resulting from this bill are likely to cause a serious upheaval in these immigrant communities. Although these proposed changes are currently not receiving as much attention as other volatile immigration-related issues like border problems or the path to full citizenship for undocumented immigrants, lawmakers need to seriously reconsider elimination of sibling visas and visas for adult married children.