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Immigration bill proposes big changes to family visas

This week, a bi-partisan group of senators unveiled a legislative proposal that would mean sweeping reform to the current immigration laws and represent the biggest change to immigration laws in 30 years. In many ways, the bill would provide more opportunities for immigrants who are in the United States or hope to come to the United States.

The not-so-good news is that the bill eliminates the 65,000 family-based visas available each year to siblings of U.S. citizens. Additionally, visas for adult children of U.S. citizens who are married and age 31 or older are eliminated in the proposed bill. These two changes would be phased in 18 months after the bill is approved.

Vocal supporters of immigration reform have already taken issue with the reduction of family-based visas, and it could present a major source of contention when the bill moves to the Senate floor for approval. The AFL-CIO has already publicly criticized the proposed change, with the group's director of immigration calling the proposal to cut family-based visas "not a good change in policy."

But there is plenty to celebrate about the bill as well. Undocumented immigrants, people seeking asylum, and people who want to come to the U.S. for temporary work could all see new opportunities. And certain family members of U.S. citizens or residents with green cards, including spouses and children, would be allowed to immigrate immediately instead of waiting for a visa.

Additionally, the bill would create a "merit-based" visa system that allocates up to 250,000 visas to immigrants based on a variety of factors including family relationships, education, employment and length of stay in the U.S. However, being a sibling to a U.S. citizen alone, for example, probably wouldn't be enough to qualify a person for a visa under the merit system.

"As a sibling, it's going to be very difficult to get a green card," the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association concluded.

Source: The Washington Post, "Inside the immigration bill: A cut to family-based visas," Suzy Khimm, April 17, 2013

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