Here’s an interesting idea for family-friendly immigration reform.
It’s a concept I learned about while doing research about immigration issues in the United Kingdom.
Could this concept work under U.S. permanent residency rules? I think so.
Of course, as a seasoned green card lawyer, I anticipate the road forward, once embarked upon, would be a bumpy ride.
In addition, many bureaucratic officers would need to modify their outlook towards immigrants.
Ancestry Visas enable commonwealth nationals who have a grandparent who was born in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man to enter the UK for a period of five years. Commonwealth nationals with a grandparent born in the Republic of Ireland prior to 31 March 1922 are also eligible to apply for a UK Ancestry Visa.
So how do these visas work?
And how do they differ from exisiting U.S. visas?
To begin, UK Ancestry Visas are not simply temporary visitor-type visas allowing an immigrant to live, work, or study in Great Britian for a limited period.
After five years, a personn can either apply for a visa renewal or apply for settled status, which is roughly tantamount to permanent residence in the U.S.
In addition, the United Kingdom approach combines two separate routes to citizenship.
Generally, birthright citizenship is conferred upon individuals through their parents’ citizenship or their place of birth.
Under the Ancestry Right path, the two roads are merged. If a person is the grandchild of an individual born in the United Kingdom, they can embark on a three step process to U.K. citizenship.
How Would An Ancestry Visa Change U.S. Immigration Law?
This is where an Ancestry Visa would add a new dimension to existing U.S. immigration and citizenship law.
There is no exact equivalent to Ancestry Visas in U.S. immigration law.
The closest measure is the Doctrine of Double Constructive Retention, a set of extremely convoluted laws practically impossible for most immigrants seeking American citizenship through a grandparent to surmount.
Applying the United Kingdom model to our rules, this is how the Ancestry Visa process could work in the United States:
A Three-Step Ancestry Visa Model For The United States
Step one would be the approval of a temporary Ancestry Visa good for five years. This exceeds the duration of most temporary U.S. visas.
Step two would be vastly different than any options provided under current U.S. green card laws.
At the end of the end of the five-year authorized visa period, an immigrant would have two options.
- (a) The immigrant could apply for an extension of the temporary visa.
- (b) If the immigrant applicant could show continuous residency during the five-year period and either current employment or past employment coupled with an active job search, he would be eligible to seek lawful permanent resident status.
Step three is citizenship. After just one year in lawful permanent resident status, the immigrant can file for naturalization.
Immigration law in the United States requires a five year wait for obtaining citizenship through a parent. (It seems unlikely that U.S. immigration authorities would be willing to reduce the time for application eligibility to such a short time frame.)
A Common Sense Solution To Help Reduce USCIS Backlogs
In a nutshell, the United Kingdom paradigm would extend the number of paths to birthright citizenship from two to three:
- Being born in the United States
- Being born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent
- Being born to U.S. citizen grandparent
Based on 20+ years experience as a San Bernardino immigration lawyer, I appreciate the need for innovative immigration measures. In my view, Ancestry Visas legislation fits into this category.
In short, an Ancestry Visas pathway to legalization represents a viable approach to reduce the current permanent residence and citizenship backlogs overwheliming most USCIS offices.
Equally significant, it would assist those applicants who often find out late in their adult years that they had a U.S. citizen grandparent – a grandparent who never conveyed that status to their child, the applicant’s parent – leading to a skipped generation of citizenship.
Let’s get started.