U.S. citizens are entitled to sponsor their spouses and minor children for green cards, and only have to wait as long as the government’s processing time — there are no special queues.
It may come as a surprise that permanent residents, however, have no guarantee that they can unite quickly with their spouses and minor children in the United States. Because the number of annual green cards is capped, these families have had to wait on average more than 3 years to get through their particular green card queue (“F2A”).
In July 2019, Congresswoman Judy Chu introduced the Reuniting Families Act, a legislative proposal that would eliminate the green card caps — and thus the waiting time — for spouses and minor children of permanent residents.
Although this bill has limited prospect of becoming law in the near term, it indicates how advocates for family-based immigration would like to change the current system. Key provisions include:
- Eliminating green card caps for spouses and minor children of permanent residents: As described above, this would speed up family unification for around 40,000 immigrants each year.
- “Recapturing” green cards lost to bureaucratic error: Over 240,000 people in the family-based queues and over 506,000 people in the employment based queues would immediately receive one of the many green cards that the government simply failed to issue between 1992–2015 (see Figure 19 here).
- Raising country caps from 7% to 20%: As described above, country caps are the reason that family-sponsored immigrants from China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines face such unusually long and growing wait times. Nearly tripling these caps would provide some measure of relief, complemented by…
- Creating a 10-year maximum wait time: Nobody seeking a green card would have to wait longer than a decade to get to the front of the line. This would prevent the current situation where every line gets longer and more hopeless over time.
- No longer counting “derivatives” under green card caps: This is probably the most consequential provision. Currently, when someone obtains a green card as the “primary” applicant, their spouse and minor children (the “derivative” applicants) also have to fit under the worldwide and per-country caps. Exempting these spouses and children from the caps could have the effect of more than doubling the number of immigrants eligible for green cards without a wait each year. (And such an increase in immigration could lead to outsized economic growth.)
Learn more in our 2019 family-based immigration report.