Friday, April 16

Asian and Pacific Islanders Want Changes in U.S. Immigration Backlog

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More than 40 Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations call on President Obama to change visa rules

Families caught in the visa backlog often spend 20 years waiting for loved ones to legally immigrate

WASHINGTON – Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and more than 40 other Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations today called on President Obama to use his executive power to improve the legal immigration system and address the serious visa backlog, which disproportionately impacts Asian American families.

President Obama announced in November that he would create a Visa Modernization Task Force to recommend how to improve the legal immigration system. The system was intended to promote family unity, but because the demand for immigrant visas far outpace the limited number of visas available, families are kept apart for decades.

“As the backlog in visas keeps growing, so do the wait times for families to reunite in the United States,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “Many have been waiting more than 20 years for family members to join them in the United States. The current system is clearly not working, and it particularly impacts the Asian American community because nearly half of the 4 million waiting in the backlog are from Asian countries.”

Today, Advancing Justice | AAJC submitted a letter signed by 44 AAPI organizations, as well as comments, strongly urging the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to ease the visa backlog.

“These modest proposals could provide immediate and substantial relief for tens of thousands Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrant families kept apart due to the inadequacies of our current legal immigration system,” said Erin Oshiro, senior staff attorney for immigration and immigrant rights at Advancing Justice | AAJC. “We plan to continue working with the White House on much-needed administrative improvements to our nation’s immigration laws. While we know ultimate reform must come from Congress, the president can provide temporary relief that will have a lasting impact on our communities.”

Advancing Justice | AAJC today offered the following suggestions to improve the backlog:

1) Set a “provisional priority date” so that individuals with approved family and employment based petitions can apply for a green card in advance of their priority date (the date determined by the State Department for when someone can apply for a green card). Right now, individuals who were sponsored by family members end up waiting years for the State Department to announce their priority date. With this change, these individuals would be able to file for permanent residence earlier.

2) Maximize available visas in the future by counting dependent family members as part of the same family unit for the purposes of calculating the visa cap. This means a family of four would count as one visa, instead of four visas, as it is now. This change could also apply to the employment-based visas. If the administration implements this change, it could impact as many as 50,000 families per year.

3) “Recapture” unused visas (those that were authorized but left unused in previous years due to administrative and processing issues) and issue them to individuals currently in the backlog. If the administration implements this change, it could open up as many as 241,000 family-based visas.

4) Continue to use parole power or the ability permit a person otherwise inadmissible to enter the United States, to reunite certain family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. For example, parole could be offered for the children of Filipino War World II veterans, who received citizenship under a 1990 immigration law, but continue to wait decades for their children to receive visas.