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The STEM Jobs Act: Will it help Green Card holders Immigrate their Spouses faster?

Currently there is a major difference between US Citizens sponsoring foreign spouses to residency, and Permanent Residents (Green Card holders), that are filing for their spouses.

Green card holders married to non-U.S. citizens are able to legally bring their spouses and minor children to join them in the USA, but only after an extensive multi-year delay, during which time the family is separated. The foreign spouse of a green card holder must wait for approval of an ‘immigrant visa’ from the State Department before entering the United States.

Due to numerical limitation on the number of these visas, the current wait time for approval is four to five years for all non-retrogressed countries (including Western Europe), and many more for the retrogressed countries. In the interim, the spouse cannot be legally present in the United States (let alone work), unless he/she secures a visa for himself/herself using some other means.

However, securing such a visa is usually difficult (and nearly-impossible at US embassies in some countries). This is because the spouse has to overcome presumed immigrant intent in order to qualify for a non-immigrant (or tourist) visa, a position at odds with her or his marriage to a US permanent resident. Due to the long wait and the immigration intent issues, many green card holder opt to wait to become US citizens (usually 5 years), and only then sponsor their spouses and children (the process is much faster for US Citizens).

This puts US green card holders in a uniquely disadvantaged situation, being separated from their spouses is not a easy task to face, and this imposes significant hardship on many families.

This coming week House Republicans are planning a vote on immigration legislation that would both expand visas for foreign science and technology students and make it easier for those with green cards to bring their immediate families to the U.S.

Republican leaders made it clear after the election that the party was ready to get serious about overhauling the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system, a top priority for Latino communities. Taking up what is called the STEM Jobs Act during the lame-duck session could be seen as a first step in that direction.

The House voted on a STEM bill – standing for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in September, but under a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority. It was defeated, with more than 80 percent of Democrats voting against it, because it offset the increase in visas for high-tech graduates by eliminating another visa program, the Green Card Lottery, that is available for less-educated foreigners, many from Africa.

Republicans are changing the formula this time by adding a provision long sought by some immigration advocates – expanding a program that allows the spouses and minor children of people with permanent residence, or green card, to wait in the United States for their own green cards to be granted.

There are some 80,000 of these family-based green cards allocated every year, but there are currently about 322,000 husbands, wives and children waiting in this category and on average people must wait more than two years to be reunited with their families. In that past that wait could be as long as six years.

This is a much needed change for Green Card holders, there is no sense to make a difference between Citizens and Green Card holders when it comes to family unity.