Understanding the U.S. Immigration System: Family Immigration Visas

Understanding the U.S. Immigration System: Family Immigration Visas from genevalopez2012.com

If you’re just joining me today, a friend of mine recently asked if I could elaborate on what the process entails for an individual to immigrate legally to the United States.  I decided I wanted to address this subject in various parts and posts since it’s such a complex process.  You can check out my first post on this topic here: Understanding the U.S. Immigration System: Tourist Visas, as I address the process of obtaining tourist visas.  As a reminder, I am not a lawyer and any information I share here should NEVER be substituted for competent legal advice from a lawyer. Because of my family’s own experiences going through the legal immigration process, as well as my professional experience providing counseling services to individuals who have gone through the process, I’m sometimes asked to share information on the topic.

Today’s blog may be the most eye-opening of any I do on the topic.  Today, we’re going to take a look at how someone can legally immigrate to the U.S. via family members.

Permanent Residents vs. U.S. Citizens: What’s the Difference?

First, it’s important to distinguish between lawful permanent residents and citizens of the U.S.  Both have gone through a legal process to obtain their status, both are legally allowed to live in the United States and work here, and both pay taxes.  Understand that when someone first legally enters this country as a legal immigrant, they will NOT be granted citizenship; they will be given permanent residency, first.  The individual must live in the U.S.A as a permanent resident for a certain amount of years (3-5, depending on the type of immigration case they have) before they can apply to become citizens of the United States and, of course, pay all the fees involved with THAT process.  However, an individual is never obligated to become a citizen; they can choose to remain a Permanent Resident only and they are still just as “legal” as an individual who chooses to become a citizen.

How Does Someone Qualify for Immigration Via a Family Member?

In order for an individual to legally immigrate to the United States via a family member, they must be one of the following:

  • Spouse of a U.S citizen or permanent resident
  • Son or daughter of a U.S. citizen
  • Unmarried son or daughter of a permanent resident
  • Parent of a U.S. citizen
  • Brother or sister of a U.S. citizen

If an individual falls into one of these categories, their relative living in the United States can file a petition for them and start the process.  There are many steps and fees involved in this process and the process is different depending on the familial relationship, so rather than list all of that, you can find this information by following this link to the government website: Family Immigration Visas.  Individuals will have to meet certain health requirements, financial requirements, submit to background checks, and complete interviews, to name a view of the steps.

How Long Does the Process Take? 

So how long can a family member expect to be waiting for their application to be processed and approved?  Well, that depends.

If a family member being petitioned for is the spouse of a U.S. citizen, the unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen, or the parent of a U.S. citizen who is 21 years old or older, THEN this process is the fastest of all family petitions.  There are no limits to the number of family visas available each year for these three family relationships, so the process moves more quickly.  However, the amount of time it will take for these applications to be processed varies day by day, will depend on the processing center that the individual’s application has been assigned to, and will also depend on the country of origin of the family member being petitioned for.  Currently, in general, the process is said to take approximately 6 months – 1 year for these specific cases, but can be greatly impacted by many factors.    

But what about family members who do not fall into one of those three categories?  How long does their process take?

Again, it depends.

When a family member does not fall into one of the above three categories, their petition is prioritized based on the nature of their relationship with the U.S. petitioner and they will fall into one of the following 4 preferences:

  1. F1-First: Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. Citizens
  2. F2A: Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents
    F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters 21 years or older of Permanent Residents
  3. F3: Married sons and daughters of U.S. Citizens
  4. F4: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. Citizens

As mentioned earlier, the amount of family visas allowed for immediate relatives (spouses, children under 21 years old, and parents) of U.S. Citizens is unlimited, but for family members that fall into one of these other categories, that is not the case.  Each year, the government establishes a certain amount of family visas allotted for each of these four categories.  According to the information provided on the U.S. Department of State’s website, currently the amount of visas allowed each year for each category is as follows:

  1. F1: 23,400
  2. F2: 114,200 total, with F2A members being allotted 77% of these and F2B members being allotted 23%
  3. F3: 23,400
  4. F4: 65,000

If the amount of visas allowed for a preference are not reached, then any “left over” visas will be added to the amount allowed for the subsequent preference.  For example, if only 20,000 visas are granted for individuals who fall into the F1 category, then the remaining 3,400 visas not used in that category will be added to the 114,200 total of the F2 category, bringing that total for the year to 117,600 visas allotted.

However, if that wasn’t complicated enough, there are also limitations to the number of visas allowed for each country every year.  Therefore, someone from Russia, for example, may have a much shorter waiting time than an individual from Mexico because the amount of visas allowed for Russia has not been met yet, but has been met for Mexico.

Whooo.  Still with me?

When an individual files a petition for a family member, the government will send them what is known as a priority date.  They can use this priority date to check on the status of their application throughout the process.  However, the U.S. Department of State, also publishes what is known as a Visa Bulletin each month.  This can be especially useful for individuals who are trying to immigrate from countries in which, currently, the number of visas is oversubscribed.  In other words, a country is referred to as oversubscribed when the amount of visa applicants exceeds the amount of visas allotted for that country.  According to the December, 2018 bulletin, currently the following countries are all oversubscribed: China (mainland born), El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Mexico, Philippines, and Vietnam.  

So what does this mean, exactly?  Let’s take a look at Mexico.  According to this month’s Visa Bulletin, the United States government is ready to begin immediate processing of applications who have been assigned priority dates BEFORE the following dates listed in each category:

  1. F1: April, 1999
  2. F2A: December, 2017
    F2B: August, 1997
  3. F3: October, 1999
  4. F4: September, 1998

In other words, currently, a Mexican applicant who is the unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and is is 21 years or older, will have been waiting 19 years for their turn in this process.

Currently, for countries that are not oversubscribed, for applicants who are the unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and are 21 years or older, the government is ready to begin processing applications with priority dates before August, 2011, meaning these individuals have been waiting approximately 7 years. 

When we take this information and combine it with information that I provided in this previous blog The Real Question We Should Be Asking About the Migrant Caravan (disclaimer: The blog post about the Caravan contains both facts and personal opinions, unlike the blog post you are currently reading), it may bring some clarification as to why individuals feel a need to forego the legal process.

In Summary

This information is constantly changing and, as you can see, dependent on several factors.  Also, this is a general overview of the typical process for family visas, but as always, there are exceptions.  If you take nothing else from this post, though, take this: Every case is different.  Just because John Doe did it this way and it took this amount of time, does NOT mean that Jane Doe’s process will be the same.  There are many components to this process and I’ve tried to explain that as briefly as possible in this blog.  

 

The Real Question We Should Be Asking About the Migrant Caravan

Migrant Caravan: When Wanting a Better Life is a Crime from genevalopez2012.com

My stomach was recently turned when watching a news station’s report on The Migrant Caravan(s). I couldn’t believe some of the things “professionals” were stating about these groups of human beings making their way here, flippantly throwing around words like “invaders,” “diseases,” and “terrorists.” It was disheartening and even more disturbing to me that their large audience was taking it all in and blindly agreeing with their discourse.

I am not here today to try to change your mind about who you vote for. I am not here today to try and even change your mind about how our country should handle immigration reform. Today, I’m here simply asking us to treat human beings like human beings, in both our actions and our words.

So many individuals, including our government entities, have placed a major focus on the theory that someone is paying the caravans to do this. It might surprise you to know, that I don’t dismiss that theory. Heck, not even my husband, a native of El Salvador, rejects that theory. We both think it’s quite possible that some of these individuals are being paid, though we believe it could be either political party behind it. But, Friends, why are we not asking the more important questions?

For argument’s sake, let’s propose that some of the members in these groups of individuals are, in fact, being paid to make this journey. Even if that’s happening, they’re not being paid much. Maybe-maybe-a few hundred bucks. Maybe. But let’s look at the bigger picture, here.

These individuals are traveling mostly by foot from Honduras and El Salvador. From El Salvador to Texas, there are approximately 1,400 miles. Let me repeat that: 1,400 miles distance between the Texas border and El Salvador and these groups are traveling it by foot. Additionally, many of these migrants are making this journey with infants and children in tow, sleeping on the streets and walking the harsh terrains. It will take them more than 1 month to make this trek by foot.

The most important question here isn’t whether or not these groups are being paid to do this. The most important question here is that even if they are, why are they doing it? What would possess a woman to journey on foot, 1,400+ miles with her 6-month old baby, to a land where she knows political tension is high, where she knows she is not wanted by a great many, where she knows that she will most likely be detained by authorizing agencies that have many claims against them of violations of human rights? What would make anyone willing to do that, even for a few hundred dollars?

The answer? Desperation.

Even if you believe these recent caravans in the news are fake and made up of paid actors, the truth is, they represent reality. Because even if these aren’t “real” people (and I believe the majority are, in fact, “real”), there are thousands before them and after them who are real and who are making dangerous journeys here. We can try to pass it off as fake news, we can shut our eyes to it, and we can bury our heads in the sand, but it will not change the fact that these caravans represent the very real reality.

Even if “real” people aren’t traveling the whole way by foot, their journey is still incredibly dangerous. Women and children who try to make the trip are often raped and violated on the way. Many migrants die on the journeys through the harsh climate of the desert. Parents will take out loans to pay “coyotes” to transport their minor children to the USA. Why? Why would anyone be willing to take such risks with their own lives or the lives of their children?

Desperation.

Let’s look at a few facts. I focus on El Salvador in this post because I am the most personally involved with it and have the most knowledge about its problems compared to the other countries involved. However, the other Central American countries affected have very similar statistics.

  • According to the World Bank, 1 in 3 Salvadoran inhabitants lives in poverty, which means they make less than $5.50 per day.
  • The World Health Organization classifies homicide rates at epidemic proportions once it reaches a ratio of 10 for every 100,000 inhabitants. In 2017, the average homicide rate in El Salvador was 60 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the entire world.
  • In 2017, the homicide rate of children and adolescents in El Salvador was 16 per 100,000 inhabitants. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, so let me try to make it a little more real to you: That would wipe out my 6-year old son’s entire 1st grade class.
  • Businesses are being extorted by gangs, forced to pay money to the area gangsters in order to keep their business; in order to stay alive, even.
  • Children and youth are being forced to join the violent gangs and if they refuse, the lives of their family members are threatened and the innocence of their sisters taken as retaliation.

This is the reality that these individuals are living in every day, so even with all the risks that come with an “illegal” journey to the US border, it all seems worth it. For many, it’s no worse than the risks they face every single day in their home countries.

THIS is what we should be focused on when we look at the caravans. Maybe these particular caravans are a ruse, but ruse or not, they represent the very real reality of thousands of other migrants. We don’t have to agree with their methods. I’m not even suggesting that we should allow all of these individuals into the United States. But can we please stop treating them like dirt and referring to them as animals? Can we treat them with the dignity they deserve as human beings? Can we stop spreading rumors and fear among our citizens? Can we get out and meet our neighbors? Can we stop relying on the media, our President, and our government for all the facts about these people and can we step out of our comfort zone and start having open conversations with people who are different from us? Can we think about what we would do if we were faced with the situation many of these migrants find themselves in? Can you really sit there and try to tell me you would do anything different if you were in their shoes?

While not all who make the journey have good intentions, the majority are simply desperate for a better life. Let’s thank God that most of us in the United States can’t even fathom this level of desperation and let’s treat these people with decency. Let’s look past our political parties, our political beliefs, and for goodness sakes, let’s show some integrity and stand up for the humane treatment of a group of individuals who are literally willing to put their lives at risk to come here. Let’s refuse to justify everything that is said by someone simply because they’re on the same “team” as us. Let’s agree to disagree on political reform, but let’s all agree to treat human beings with decency and respect, both in our actions and the words we use to describe them.

They are not invaders. They are simply human beings desperate for life.

Migrant Caravan: When Wanting a Better Life is a Crime from genevalopez2012@gmail.com

Does Prejudice Have To Be Personal Before We’ll Recognize It?

Does Prejudice Have To Be Personal Before We'll Recognize It? from genevalopez2012.com

President Trump has often been accused of racism and fear-mongering and the latest Republican campaign ad endorsed by Trump, has once again brought these allegations to the forefront.  Many of his supporters adamantly dismiss these claims as outrageous and ridiculous, stating he simply tells the truth.

The thing is, Friends, our language matters.  The way we say things is important, and most especially when we are leading an entire country.  The manner in which we present information is critical.  The POTUS often uses scare-tactics to prey on the fears of America.  When discussing the problem of illegal immigration, he has referred to immigrants numerous times as rapists, murderers, and “very bad people.”  And yes, there have been some horrendous crimes committed in this country and elsewhere by individuals who entered the USA illegally.  I’m not denying that or justifying it, nor am I suggesting that we shouldn’t discuss those cases when looking at policy changes to our immigration system.

The issue, though, is to hear the President speak, one would think that these bad apples are the majority and they are not.  The majority of individuals who have entered this country legally or illegally, are simply looking for a better way of life for themselves and their families.  Many are trying to escape extreme poverty, government corruption, and/or terrible violence.  Most are just trying to give their children a chance at life.  Not even necessarily a chance at a good life, guys!  Just an actual chance to live to see their 16th birthday!

But President Trump doesn’t talk about these things.  Of course not.  That wouldn’t fit in with his political agenda.  That wouldn’t build that wall.

To be fair to him, though, the President’s fear-mongering is nothing new in politics.  Look back in history and we see countless incidents from politicians and news rooms from all sides who have employed the same tactic.  It’s just easier for us to see it when we, or the causes we support, are the scapegoat.

I’m a Christ-follower.  Do you know how many people in history have been viciously murdered by individuals in the name of God, in the name of the same God I love and serve?  Millions, my Friends.  Millions.  Yet, I would find it ridiculous if people started using those facts to denounce Christians as dangerous.  Why?  Because I know we’re not all like that.  In fact, most of us aren’t.

I support the 2nd amendment, though I support some policy changes regarding gun laws.  Lots of people I know do, too.  And lots of people I know get so frustrated with the fact that after another mass shooting in America, politicians and the media prey on our fears and lump all gun owners into the same category: dangerous.  My news feed will be inundated with people’s arguments that most gun owners are responsible citizens and they’ll be furious with “the other side” refusing to distinguish between the majority and the bad apples.

I don’t support abortion because of my religious and moral convictions.  Yet, there have been quite a few individuals with allegedly the same convictions as my own, who have committed heinous crimes against abortion clinics.  I would never condone such actions and I certainly don’t want to be associated with them.  I definitely don’t want my convictions and those of the majority who believe like me, to be judged by the violence of that minority among us.  That would be crazy.  Right?

I support our law enforcement.  I believe they should be respected and appreciated for their work and sacrifices.  I also know, though, that not all who wear that badge, are good people.  There are incidents where minorities have been profiled, unjustly apprehended, and yes, even murdered by racist cops.  But I recognize that most of the men and women behind that badge are not like that and I would never condone violence against them based off the disgusting actions of the minority among them.

I’m a 34-year old white woman in America.  I didn’t live through the Civil War. I didn’t own slaves nor do I condone it.  But my ancestors did.  I know plenty of white racists today, sadly.  There are white supremacists marching around in KKK hoods and preaching hatred even today.  But I definitely don’t want to be associated with those kinds of people.  In fact, it annoys me when people assume that I am a racist because of the color of my skin, the history of my people, and the actions of a bunch of morons who happen to have the same skin tone as I do.

Am I making my point, here, Friends?

I think every single one of us in some way or another have experienced frustrations at being grouped into the same category as extremists and minorities in our individual groups.  Most of us don’t have any difficulty identifying how unfair or ludicrous it is to be scapegoated against when we are the victims of such actions.  So why is it so difficult for us to not hold ourselves, to not hold the individuals who we align ourselves with, to the same standards?  Why can we not see past our politics, our religions, our genders, our races, etc and recognize prejudice even when it’s not personal to us?  Do we have to be the scapegoat before we’re willing to step up on our soap boxes? Do we have to be the victims of bigotry before we are willing to demonstrate integrity?

I’m not an “open all our borders and let anyone come and go as they please” advocate.  I believe in a system to immigration.  I believe in enforcing immigration laws when they make sense.  But I do not support, nor will I ever support, preying on the fears and lack of understanding of my country to bring about changes to the broken system.  I will never support any leader’s policies on the issue, who demonizes entire populations based on the terrible actions of a minority among them and refuses to address all the truths on a subject, not just the ones that support their agenda.

Does Prejudice Have to Be Personal Before We'll Recognize It? from genevalopez2012.com