The Myth of Chain Migration

Written for and originally Posted at Forbes

Stuart Anderson

Stuart Anderson

A common criticism of the U.S. immigration system is it tilts toward family admissions. This criticism rests, in part, on the mistaken notion that any close relations sponsored by U.S. citizens come to America quickly as permanent residents. However the wait times for sponsoring a close family member are long and, in some cases, extremely long. (See this recent report from the National Foundation for American Policy.)

For example, due to the annual limits the State Department is only processing applications for siblings from the Philippines filed prior to August 1988, according to the department’s Visa Bulletin. In other words, American citizens with brothers or sisters in the Philippines who filed while Ronald Reagan was still president and before the Berlin Wall fell are still waiting for their relatives to join them.

One argument made for eliminating family immigration categories is that doing so would reduce something called “chain migration.” However, reasonable analysis shows that “chain migration” is a contrived term that seeks to put a negative light on a phenomenon that has taken place throughout the history of the country – some family members come to America and succeed, and then sponsor other family members.

Table 1: The Myth of Chain Migration: 41 Years Between Application for First Immigrant and Entry of Second Immigrant

U.S. Citizen Files a Petition for Adult Married Son or Daughter Who is a Citizen of Mexico 1992
Immigrant Visa Becomes Available 2010 18 years
Administer Consular Processing, Security Checks, and Interviews 2011 1 year
The Spouse of the New Immigrant Waits 5 Years and Applies to Become A Citizen 2016 5 years
Completes Naturalization Process 2017 1 year
Now a U.S. Citizen, the Spouse of the Former Adult Married Son or Daughter from Mexico Files a Petition for a Brother 2017 0 year
Immigrant Visa Becomes Available 2032 15 years
Administer Consular Processing, Security Checks, and Interviews and the “Chain” Relative Enters 2033 1 year
Total Time Between the Application of the First Immigrant and the Entry of the Second immigrant in the “Chain” 41 years

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, U.S. Department of State.

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