Chain Immigration: An American Tradition

Chain migration, which has become something of a buzzword in the wake of Sayfullo Saipov’s terrorist attack in New York, is really a new term for something that has long occurred in the United States.

Previously, chain migration was known to folks familiar with immigration issues as family reunification or family-based immigration, which sounds quite a lot nicer.

The U.S. government has supported the concept of family reunification for a very long time and indeed supports it over any other immigration mode.

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Family-based Immigration 424,744 394,455 382,890 452,272 530,850
Employment-based Immigration 19,137 21,144 21,365 21,613 25,036

* Data from U.S. State Department

As this table illustrates, employment-based or so-called “merit-based” immigration makes up a small fraction of the immigrants who come to the United States for at least the last five years.

There are even special programs, such as the Haitian Reunification Parole Program or Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which specifically target certain immigrant groups for reunification to the United States.

There are some limitations to family reunification immigration in the United States and it mostly has to do with whether or not the original immigrant is a permanent resident or a citizen.

  • U.S. Citizens can help their children, spouses, parents or siblings immigrate to the United States.
  • Lawful Permanent Residents, or Green Card Holders, are somewhat more limited in who they can help immigrate to the United States in that they can only assist spouses and unmarried children.
  • Contrary to popular discourse, grandparents and cousins are not valid relationships for establishing family-based immigration.

The tendency for people to engage in chain Migration should be no surprise. Once a person arrives in a new country, it’s natural for them to send for their relatives to join them. Most folks in the United States today can consider themselves to be at the end of a very long chain of migration that started hundreds of years ago.