MyAsian Journal Column:
This is especially true for those who have been waiting for many years for their ates or kuyas (with their spouses and kids) to finally re-join the family, after being left behind in the Philippines because they were already married or have aged out when the petition of their parents became current.
It also holds true for nanays and tatays, who have been hoping for decades to have their brothers and sisters join them here in America, in order to fulfill Lolo and Lola’s wish for the whole family to be together again.
There are also many undocumented kababayans, who have not been able to go back home for years or decades, due to fear of being barred in America.
They have missed so many birthdays, Christmases, graduations, weddings -- even funerals.
They are hoping that with the passing of the immigration reform bill, they may finally be able to travel freely and visit the Philippines once again, without worrying about being barred from the US and being able to reunite with their loved ones, once their immigration petitions have been approved.
But with the new proposals being discussed in the Senate, many fear that immigration reform may worsen the situation -- instead, it may do the exact opposite, and these hopeful kababayans may not be reunited with their families, nor fulfill their American dream.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is part of a bipartisan Senate group negotiating the bill, said their aim is to reform the immigration system so it has a “much clearer economic focus.”
As explained by Balitang America’s Pinoy panawagan Legal Counsel Atty. Lou Tancinco, the bi-partisan group of eight US senators is therefore considering decreasing the number of family visas and eliminating two family-based categories.
Although there is no final proposal yet, Atty. Tancinco said that it is likely that the third and fourth family preference categories will be eliminated.
The petitions that will be affected are those by US citizens on behalf of adult, married children and the petitioners’ brothers and sisters.
This plan will reduce family visas by some 90,000 and will limit the ability of US citizens to petition relatives.
Explaining the rationale of this proposal, Sen. Graham said: “Green cards should be reserved for the nuclear family. Green cards are economic engines for the country. This is not a family court we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing about an economic need.”
As the Associated Press reported, unlike most other industrialized nations, the United States awards a much larger proportion of green cards to family members of US citizens and permanent residents than to foreigners with job prospects here.
Green cards are permanent resident visas and allow holders to eventually become citizens in three to five years.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, about two-thirds of permanent legal immigration to the United States is family-based, compared to about 15 percent that is employment-based. The remainder is largely humanitarian.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, there is an annual cap of 226,000 in the family-based category and about 154,000 in the employment-based preferences.
Atty. Tancinco said that the senators are more inclined to increase the allocation of visas for the employment-based category, by reducing the numbers available for family-based petitions -- thus maintaining the total worldwide visa quota.
She commented that the senators’ proposal is based on the assumption that the total number of visas available should not exceed what is provided for by existing law.
Atty. Tancinco lamented that instead of issuing more, visas are simply going to be reallocated.
“The real solution to backlog in both family and employment categories is for visa numbers to be increased across the board, instead of reallocating from one category to the other.”
“The family is undeniably the source of immigrant strength and vitality. When there is a strong family unit and support, immigrants thrive better resulting in significant social and economic benefits,” Atty. Tancinco argued.
“Family members also bring skills and resources. They build businesses and become successful entrepreneurs,” she added.
True enough, we see this scenario in a lot of Filipino families living in the United States.
Atty. Lou pointed out that when family members are petitioned and join their relatives, they can provide much needed care to the elders and to minor children. She said the latter is true, especially in Filipino families with strong networks that care for elderly parents and support minor children.
“If the goal is to attract the best and brightest, making it difficult for relatives to immigrate may produce the opposite effect. Highly skilled and talented individuals may be reluctant to apply for visas to go to the US if other family members will not be able to join them,” she said.
Atty. Tancinco reiterated the point she raised in an earlier interview that I shared through this column. She said there could only be true immigration reform if the immigration system is amended to increase the total numerical worldwide cap, and to increase the per country limit. Atty. Tancinco contended that this is the way to resolve the backlog and to foster family unity.
She argued that favoring employment-based over family-based petitions will not really achieve the set goal.
“When talented and highly-skilled individuals are allowed to petition their families, the employment-based system is actually also strengthened,” Atty. Tancinco explained.
“The immigration system for allocating visas should harmonize family and employment objectives. Only then can we say that there will be a sincere, fair and humane immigration reform.”
What do you think? Should petitions for skilled workers be prioritized over family members, so that the US immigration system will have a “much clearer economic focus?”