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Major Changes in Family Immigration Proposed in Senate Bill

In line with its goal of shifting the focus of immigration from family-based to skills-based, the Senate comprehensive reform bill proposes a number of major changes in the current family-based preference system.

The annual limit of family-based immigrant visas will be reduced from 226,000 to 161,000. The per country cap will rise from 7% to 15%.

The bill will eliminate the 4th preference category for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and limit the 3rd preference category to married sons and daughters who are under 31. The changes will take effect after the bill is passed so that petitions filed before that will continue to be processed. U.S. citizens should consider filing their petitions for these relatives now.

Under the current system, the 4th preference category is allocated 65,000 annual visa numbers. As of November 2012, the Department of State recorded 2,873,114 applicants, including 188,521 Filipinos, on the waiting list.

The 3rd preference category on the other hand with current annual allocation of 23,400 has a waiting list of over 830,000 applicants. The bill will allocate 25% of the worldwide level for this scaled-back category.

The first preference category for the unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens will be retained. This category has a waiting list of 288,000 and has an annual allocation of 23,400. Under the bill, it will have 35% of the worldwide allotment.

Unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents who are classified under the F2B preference category will be allocated 40% of the worldwide level.

Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents currently under the F2A category will be upgraded to the immediate relative category and would not therefore be subject to visa number limitation. Under that category they would be allowed to adjust their status even if they have overstayed or worked without authorization. Under the current system, only the spouse, unmarried children and parents of U.S. citizens have this benefit.

Derivative beneficiaries of immediate relatives applying for green card will be allowed to immigrate with their parents unlike now where they have to be petitioned separately under a different category. This will prevent separation of the children from their parents.

The bill will also benefit the unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens under 31 and unmarried adult sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents who are beneficiaries of approved family-based petitions. They will be eligible for V visas to enable them to live and work in the U.S. while waiting for their priority dates to become current.

Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and sons and daughters of U.S. citizens over 31 years will also be eligible but they will not be authorized to work and their admission may not exceed 60 days per year.

Other new provisions under the bill include raising the age of a stepchild from 18 to 21 for purposes of allowing sponsorship by the stepparent; raising the age requirement for adopted child from 16 to 18; allowing aged-out children to retain the priority dates of the original petition of their parents; and permitting lawful permanent residents to file for a fiance petition.

The current rules pertaining to termination or reinstatement of registration for an immigrant visa, retention of priority dates, automatic conversion of visa petitions, petition for orphans and widows and inadmissibility waivers will be modified.

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