‘Chain Migration’: Mexicans Benefit Most, But Also Face Longest Delays

By Mark Browne | February 28, 2018 | 12:27 AM EST

A green card is issued to lawful permanent residents of the United States. (Image: U.S. Green Card Office)

(Edited to correct spelling of analyst's name)

Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Mexicans account for the largest number of foreigners who receive green cards when sponsored by a family member in the U.S., but they also face the longest delays and other barriers.

A total of 804,793 green cards were issued in 2016 on the strength of sponsorship by a family member – or “chain migration” – according to the Pew Research Center, which says it “is the most common way people gain green cards, in recent years accounting for about 70% of the more than 1 million people who receive green cards annually.”

President Trump has proposed limiting green cards obtained through chain migration to spouses and minor children, according to Pew.

Mexicans made up the largest percentage of foreigners to receive green cards through family sponsorship in 2016 – 19 percent – according to Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

People from the Dominican Republic made up the second largest group, at eight percent.

The high percentage of Mexicans is consistent with data from other years as well, Gelatt said.

Mexicans also face the longest wait times for green cards, up to 23 years in some cases, she said.

“It is generally about seven years long, but it is even longer for people from Mexico.”

An annual cap on the number of family-sponsored green cards issued to each country is one reason for the long delays.

“There are more people waiting in line for a visa for adult unmarried children from Mexico and the Philippines,” Gelatt said.

There are other barriers as well under current immigration law.

Mexicans who enter the U.S. illegally and spend six months must return to Mexico and wait three years before they can apply for a green card. That waiting period extends to 10 years if the stay in the U.S. is 12 months, Gelatt said.

Current law also caps the number of green cards that can be obtained through chain migration to a total of 226,000 per year for married adult children, unmarried adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens; as well as unmarried adult children, spouses and minor children who are sponsored by holders of green cards who are not U.S. citizens.

No more than seven percent of those 226,000 green cards may go to applicants from any one country.

On the other hand, there is no cap on the number of green cards obtained through chain migration for spouses, unmarried minor children and parents of U.S. citizens.

The DREAM Act of 2017, if passed into law, would give conditional permanent residence status to at least two million immigrants, mostly of Mexican origin, covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Once given legal status, DACA recipients would then have the option of sponsoring a spouse, minor children, and unmarried adult children for a green card, Gelatt said.

DACA recipients could only sponsor their parents once the DACA recipient got citizenship, Gelatt said. But most DACA parents entered the U.S. illegally and so would have to return to Mexico first.

Experts disagree on how many family members DACA recipients would sponsor for green cards, if given legal residency and a path to citizenship.

“Based on current immigration law, we estimate most Dreamers would sponsor at most one member of their family in the Dreamer’s lifetime if given a path to legal residency,” Gelatt said.

A study by the Center for Immigration Studies released in September reached a different conclusion, however.

An analysis of a five-year cohort of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. between 1996 and 2000 found that “each new Mexican immigrant sponsored 6.38 additional legal immigrants,” it said.

Giving DACA recipients legal status would lead to 1.4 million new legal immigrants through chain migration, the CIS study claims.

The study concluded that chain migration due to DACA recipients having legal status could be reduced if Congress “eliminated or scaled back” chain migration covering the parents, adult sons and daughters, and siblings of U.S. citizens.

The study also found that chain migration is contributing to an increase in the age of new green card holders in the U.S.

“In the early 1980s, only about 17 percent of family migrants were age 50 or over. In recent years, about 21 percent of family migrants were age 50 or older – a rate that is more than 24 percent higher.”


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