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President Donald Trump arrives before the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (AP) President Donald Trump arrives before the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (AP)

President Donald Trump arrives before the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (AP)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde January 31, 2018

Donald Trump's misleading claim about chain migration, unlimited sponsorship of distant relatives

President Donald Trump in his State of the Union address called for tighter control of legal immigration and for an end to "chain migration."

"Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives," Trump said Jan. 30. "Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children."

The White House did not respond on the record for this fact-check, but it appears that Trump meant a distant relative is anyone who is not a spouse or minor child (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines "child" as being unmarried and under 21 years old).

Neither U.S. citizens nor lawful permanent residents can directly petition for an aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, in-law relative or grandparent to come to the United States.

Theoretically, one immigrant’s arrival in the United States could lead to the immigration of an aunt or uncle — if the first immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen and petitioned a parent, that parent could eventually become a U.S. citizen and petition his or her siblings.

But there is a long queue for certain relatives seeking to come through family sponsorship. For brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, the waiting period for a visa is over 13 years.

Type of relatives that can be sponsored by U.S. citizens and green card holders

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can bring certain family members to the United States to live here permanently.

But there are restrictions. No one can directly petition for an aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, in-law relative or grandparent, according to USCIS.

Green card holders can petition for a spouse and unmarried children, including unmarried sons and daughters 21 and over.

Sponsorship categories expand for U.S. citizens, who can also petition for married children. Sons and daughters of U.S. citizens can include their own children in the petition. If a U.S. citizen is over 21 years old, he or she also can sponsor parents, brothers and sisters to come here on a green card.

Additionally, U.S. citizens can also sponsor a fiance or fiancee to come on a nonimmigrant visa, and eventually file for a green card after marriage.

Unmarried, under 21-year-old children of a fiance, fiancee or spouse of a U.S. citizen can also be admitted on nonimmigrant visas and later adjust their status.

Featured Fact-check

Is there a way that an immigrant ‘can bring in’ an aunt or uncle, indirectly?

If an immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, he or she can sponsor a parent. If that parent eventually becomes a U.S. citizen, he or she could sponsor a brother or sister (the aunt or uncle of the original immigrant), noted Steven Camarota, director of research for Center for Immigration Studies, which favors low immigration levels.

"You could see that as indirect sponsorship of aunts and uncles," Camarota said.

Indirect sponsorship is theoretically possible, but would take a long time, said Stephen H. Legomsky, an emeritus professor at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis who served as chief counsel of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2011 to 2013.

An immigrant would first have to become a naturalized citizen — an option available after being a permanent resident for at least five years. As a naturalized citizen, an immigrant can petition for siblings, and the siblings could bring in their spouses and unmarried children.

But there are limits on the number of visas issued per year per family category.

More than 3.9 million people were in line for a visa as of Nov. 1, 2017, according to the U.S. State Department. Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens fall under a "fourth-preference" category, which had 2.3 million people waiting for a visa — the wait period is over 13 years for immigrants from most nations, but even longer for some countries with heavy demand, such as Mexico and the Philippines.

Siblings in the Philippines would have to wait at least 23 years for a visa, and Mexican siblings at least 20 years.

"As a practical matter, because of these long backlogs there is not as much chain migration as President Trump claims," said Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell Law School.

Our ruling

Trump said "a single immigrant can bring in unlimited numbers of distant relatives."

Trump’s team did not go on the record to identify who Trump considered to be "distant relatives," but it appears he’s referring to anyone who is not a spouse or minor child.

Green card holders can sponsor a spouse and unmarried children, including unmarried sons and daughters over 21 years old. For U.S. citizens, the categories expand to include parents, married children, brothers and sisters.

No one can directly petition an aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, in-law relative or grandparent. But theoretically, one immigrant’s arrival in the United States could lead to the immigration of an aunt or uncle — if the first immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen and petitioned a parent, that parent could eventually become a U.S. citizen and petition his or her siblings.

Still, there are numerical limits on visas issued per year per family category. For some relatives, the wait period for a visa is over 13 years.

Trump’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

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Mostly False
"A single immigrant can bring in unlimited numbers of distant relatives."
State of the Union address
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Our Sources

Email exchange, White House press office, Jan. 30, 2018

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Green Card Eligibility Categories

I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, Presentation on Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, K Nonimmigrant, Green Card Eligibility Categories, Bringing Children, Sons and Daughters to Live in the United States as Permanent Residents, Family of Green Card Holders (Permanent Residents)

U.S. State Department, Annual Report of Immigrant Visa Applicants in the Family-sponsored and Employment-based preferences Registered at the National Visa Center as of November 1, 2017

Email interview, Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice, at Cornell Law School, Jan. 30-31, 2018

Email interview, Stephen H. Legomsky, an emeritus professor at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Jan 31, 2018

Email interview, Steven Camarota, director of research for Center for Immigration Studies, Jan 31, 2018

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Donald Trump's misleading claim about chain migration, unlimited sponsorship of distant relatives

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