The Biden administration has initiated a program designed to permit specific Central and South American individuals who are ensnared in the family visa backlog to enter the United States and reunite with their relatives while awaiting the availability of their immigrant visas. The success of these new initiatives, which have the potential to benefit approximately 75,000 people, hinges upon the resources and dedication the federal government allocates to their implementation.
The novel Family Reunification Parole programs cater to individuals from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and they draw inspiration from programs initially established for Cubans in 2007 and Haitians in 2014. All these endeavors operate under the federal government’s legal authority to allow people to legally enter and stay in the United States on a case-by-case basis without a visa.
The administration has officially announced these four new programs in the Federal Register, highlighting them as further instances of providing “lawful pathways” for individuals to enter the United States rather than resorting to unauthorized border crossings from Mexico.
Since taking office, the Biden administration has employed parole to admit Afghan and Ukrainian refugees temporarily. Additionally, up to 30,000 individuals monthly from countries including Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have been admitted through parole to stay for two-year intervals. These initiatives have extended opportunities to individuals who might otherwise lack a legitimate means of entering the United States. However, they all present only temporary options and lack a path to permanent status.
Differing from these programs, the Family Reunification Parole is exclusively accessible to individuals who already possess legal means to immigrate to the U.S., and have indeed been approved for such immigration. It allows them to remain until they are eventually granted green cards.
Congress has imposed a cap on the number of immigrant visas granted each year for certain categories, such as adult children of U.S. citizens and siblings of U.S. citizens. However, the number of applications approved often exceeds the available slots, resulting in a backlog. The new parole initiative aims to address this issue, as approximately 73,500 individuals from the four eligible countries are currently stuck in these backlogs, with a significant portion coming from El Salvador. Without this parole option, the government estimates they could wait for visas for as long as 15 years.
Nonetheless, not all 73,500 individuals will necessarily be granted entry to the United States. The extent of the Family Reunification Parole is determined by the number of individual invitations issued by the U.S. State Department.
In this process, the federal government examines its existing backlog of approved immigrant visa petitions filed by family members in the U.S. for their adult children and siblings. A selection of individuals is then invited to apply for the program within a six-month window. If they successfully apply and are granted parole, these family members can enter the U.S. and remain while waiting for their immigrant visas. Subsequently, they will become green card holders as if they had been waiting outside the U.S.
However, the government cautions that invitations will not be extended to all potentially eligible individuals. The USCIS webpage related to the new programs clarifies that the number of invitations will depend on the operational capacity of the U.S. government.
Previous parole programs for Cubans and Haitians serve as cautionary examples. For instance, the exact number of beneficiaries from the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program is undisclosed. The last report on Haitian beneficiaries, based on three invitation rounds between 2014 and 2016, stated that around 12,500 invitations were issued, of which 8,300 applications were approved.
The Biden administration’s overarching goal is to steer individuals away from unauthorized migration and encourage legal entry. However, it’s unclear how many individuals, having already been approved for future U.S. immigration, are resorting to unauthorized border crossings due to impatience. The success of this initiative in achieving the administration’s objectives remains uncertain due to the absence of a defined number of invitations.
It’s plausible that the implementation of Family Reunification Parole may align with another new administration initiative aimed at promoting legal migration: the Safe Mobility Offices established in Guatemala, Colombia, and Costa Rica. These offices are intended to help individuals explore legal status options in the U.S., Canada, and Spain, thereby encouraging legal applications instead of border crossings. Nonetheless, the current scope and operational details of these offices raise questions.
By launching these new programs, the Biden administration is leveraging its executive authority to bridge the gap between the promises of the U.S. immigration system and its actual delivery. However, the extent of progress in narrowing this gap largely rests in the hands of the government itself.