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Immigration Law Blog

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“Chain Migration”: Exposing the Lies

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The White House has been pushing its proposed immigration bill, claiming that the U.S. needs to end “chain migration.”  But can an immigrant bring his or her entire extended family as the Trump Administration claims?  Read on to find out exactly what is (and isn’t) allowed, and how that might change in the proposed bill.

U.S. Citizens can sponsor their spouses, children, parents, and siblings

United States citizens have the privilege of sponsoring the following people to immigrate to the United States:


U.S. citizens can sponsor their spouses to come to the United States.  This would not change in the proposed immigration bill.  Depending on whether the spouse can adjust status in the United States or must consular process, and whether a waiver is needed, this could take as little as six months or as long as several years.


U.S. citizens can sponsor their children, but specific circumstances will dictate the wait time.  Unmarried children under the age of 21 can have a similar timeline as that of a spouse.  Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 are currently looking at a processing time of 7-22 years. And married sons and daughters are looking at 13-23 years.  But those times are for those who filed their petitions years ago.  If they file now, the line is likely to be much longer.  Under the White House’s proposed plan, adult sons and daughters would no longer be eligible to immigrate.


U.S. citizens may apply for their parents to immigrate to the U.S., and it can take anywhere from 6 months to several years depending on circumstances.  However, under the Trump Administration’s proposed bill, this eligibility category would disappear.  So if an immigrant would like to bring over their elderly mother or father to live with them and take care of them, they wouldn’t be able to do so.


U.S. citizens can also apply for their siblings.  However, the general consensus is that most beneficiaries would be dead before they were done waiting.  The shortest wait time for siblings right now is 14 years, but again, that’s for someone who filed their petition 14 years ago.  If you filed a petition now, it would likely take much longer than the average life span to adjudicate.  Under this category, you can also include your siblings unmarried sons and daughters under the age of 21, so technically you can sponsor your nieces and nephews.  However, in reality this is a misnomer because the children will almost certainly have “aged out” by the time they could actually immigrate, if it even happens while they are alive.  Under the Trump Administration’s proposed bill, this eligibility category would disappear.

Lawful permanent residents can sponsor their spouses and children

Lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can only sponsor their spouses and unmarried children. And if their children get married while waiting, they are no longer eligible to immigrate. Right now, the shortest wait time for a relative of an LPR is about 2 years, and the longest is about 22 years. Under the Trump plan, adult sons and daughters would no longer be eligible to immigrate.

Is this really chain migration?

The Trump Administration has been throwing around the phrase “chain migration”, asserting that an immigrant can bring his or her “entire extended family” to the United States.  As you can see, this isn’t the case.  You cannot sponsor your grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles like the administration would like you to believe.

What happens after the petition is filed?

Another really important thing to note is that once a petition is filed, approved, and the “priority date” is current (i.e. you are done waiting in line), the beneficiary must go through rigorous screening to see if he or she is admissible to the United States.  For example, the I-485 form that someone files if they are applying for a green card from within the United States is 18 pages long and requires a criminal background check and generally an interview with USCIS.  So the assertions that we are “letting everybody in” with no checks is patently false.

And while it is true that once the beneficiary’s become green card holders or citizens, they can apply for their own family members, this hardly amounts to chain migration where everyone can come.  Each immigrant is subject to these parameters, and it usually is about a 5-6 year process to become a citizen once a person has a green card.