There’s been a lot of talk about what the immigration bill does to change existing pathways for legal immigration. Everyone in the political universe seems to agree that the country needs an expansion of visas for “high-skilled” immigrants—people with degrees in science and technology fields. Even Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg wants more of those visas. But Republicans often argue that in order to make space, Congress will need to cut other legal immigration routes. They usually go after two targets for the cuts: family-based visas and the Diversity Lottery program.
They appear to have won. The Senate bill makes cuts in both of those categories. The changes will strike a blow to many families and to geographic equity in who can immigrate.
Family Visas Cut, Family Visas Added
The immigration bill promises to clear out the existing backlog of over 4 million family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents waiting for green cards to join their family members. Over the next 10 years, all those who’ve already petitioned to come to the U.S. could be allowed in.
But beginning 18 months after the bill takes effect, U.S. citizens will no longer be allowed to bring their non-citizen siblings to the U.S. Those currently waiting in the long visa backlogs will be cleared, but after that, if you’re from another country and your brother or sister is in the U.S., they’ll be of no help to get you here.
The bill would also stop granting visas to the adult married children of U.S. citizens.
On the other hand, the legislation does make changes that will help unite some families who now have to wait decades. For example, currently, an endless number of citizens can petition for green cards for their minor children and spouses, but there’s a cap on the number of these family members who legal residents can sponsor. The bill would remove that cap and allow all minor kids and spouses of residents to come to the U.S.
No More Diversity Lottery
Diversity Immigrant Visa Program grants 55,000 green cards each year to immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration. Republicans have long wanted to cut the program because they say it doesn’t serve the greater national interest of bringing highly-skilled immigrants to the U.S. The Gang of Eight bill chops the Diversity Visa program altogether.
Cutting the program will strike a blow to African immigrants. Half of the visas are granted to applicants from a handful of countries in Africa, including Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya.
“This program is working well and it does not hurt the system, so why remove it?” Bekary Tandia of the New York-based African Services Committee told Colorlines.com. “This is a program that’s important to our communities and will change the system in the wrong direction.”
Democrats in Congress previously refused to let the program die, but appear now to have decided it worth the trade.