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U.S. citizens' siblings face a 12-year wait for immigrant visas

When people talk about reforming our immigration system, they often discuss only the issues surrounding undocumented immigrants. In some cases, they may bring up the difficulty U.S. employers have bringing in needed workers on H1-B visas, or keeping them when those visas expire. Perhaps because its economic impact is less obvious, family-based immigration gets less attention in the debate, but our family immigration system is also out of date -- and it often seems to thwart the goal of bringing families together.

One New York man just wrote into the New York Daily News "Citizenship NOW!" blog about how to get an immigrant visa and ultimately a green card for the sister of a U.S. citizen. The woman is a divorcee from China whose teenage daughter is coming to the U.S. to attend a private school. The woman's sister is a U.S. citizen who is willing to sponsor her for lawful permanent residency so she can be with her daughter long term.

Unfortunately, the answer was somewhat disheartening. Even if the woman has no other bar from getting a green card, she will have to wait around 12 years before she is eligible for a green card through sponsorship by her sister. That’s because the U.S. currently only allows 65,000 immigrant visas annually for siblings of U.S. citizens seeking permanent residency.

That does not mean she has no way to come to the U.S. to be with her teenage daughter while she attends high school. She should be able to get a B-2 tourist visa for up to six months, and then apply for extensions as necessary. However, she would not be allowed to work. She could apply for an EB-5 investor visa if she has $500,000 to invest in a U.S. business. Or, she might qualify for an immigrant visa on her own merit if she has a extraordinary ability as a professional, researcher or an activity that would substantially benefit the U.S. national interest.

In other words, there are a number of options for obtaining an immigrant visa that can lead to a green card. That said, shouldn’t her family ties be enough?

Source: New York Daily News’s Citizenship NOW! blog, “U.S. citizen's sister has a 12-year wait before she can get permanent residence,” Allan Wernick, Sept. 22, 2013

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