On August 9, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, the parents of Melania Trump, were sworn in as U.S. citizens in a private ceremony in Manhattan. They were sponsored by the First Lady, who obtained a green card in 2001 became a U.S. citizen in 2006. She and her parents are originally from Slovenia.
According to news reports, the Knavses “slipped in and out of a side entrance at a Manhattan federal building flanked by Department of Homeland Security police. Some workers inside didn’t know what was going on.”
Family-based immigration has been controversial. Its detractors, including President Trump, have referred to it as “chain migration” and said that it allows a single immigrant to “bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”
Can immigrants bring in unlimited numbers of distant relatives?
The reality is complex, but the answer is no. Immigrants who become either U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can apply for certain relatives to be admitted to the U.S. The relatives to be admitted come in two categories: immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and immigrants admitted on “family preference” visas.
It’s true that U.S. citizens can sponsor an unlimited number of immediate relatives, but those only include:
- Unmarried children under 21
- Orphans adopted abroad or to be adopted in the U.S.
- Parents, when the U.S. citizen is 21 or older
When it comes to green card holders and more distant relatives of U.S. citizens, there are only a limited number of visas available each year. These are ranked by preference and apply to:
- First preference: Unmarried children of U.S. citizens over 21 and their minor children
- Second preference: Spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents, along with a limited number of their unmarried adult children
- Third preference: Married children of U.S. citizens, along with their spouses and minor children
- Fourth preference: Siblings of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children, when the citizen is at least 21
Even U.S. citizens cannot sponsor more distant relatives. For example, U.S. you cannot sponsor your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, in-laws or cousins.
Finally, it’s important to note that there are typically more applications for family preference visas than there are visas available, so people seeking family preference-based immigration may have to wait several years for a visa.