How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Who has to wait the longest for a green card?

Source: Visa Bulletin for April 2011, U.S. Department of Stat

Nations with current longest waits for family-sponsored based immigrant visas: The priority dates shown are when applicants now up for processing filed their petitions.

A common question that comes up when discussing immigration, legal and illegal, is why it is more people don't get "in line" for a green card. There is a line, indeed, for people who have immediate relatives in the United States and whose families have the resources to sponsor them. But depending on where these hopeful immigrants are coming from, it can be quite a wait.

It's been since January that Multi-American featured its monthly post on the on the longest waits for green cards, and the line has budged little since. That month, the people who had endured the longest wait for an immigrant visa, the brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens from the Philippines, had been waiting an especially long time: 23 years, having filed their petitions in January 1988.

Siblings waiting in the Philippines are still the ones waiting the longest this month. According to the U.S. State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin, those hopeful immigrants whose turn is up to receive a green card this month filed their petitions in March 1988. That's back when there was no World Wide Web, people wore acid-wash and INXS and Guns N' Roses topped the charts. That long ago.

The way it works: Each month, immigrant visas technically become available to those whose priority dates, i.e. the dates on which their petitions were filed, are listed in the visa bulletin. Here's the list of those who have endured the longest waits this month:

1) Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 23 years (petitions filed March 8, 1988).

2) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 19 years (petitions filed January 1, 1992)

3) Unmarried adult (21 and over) sons and daughters of U.S. legal permanent residents from Mexico, a wait of more than 18 years (petitions filed November 8, 1992)

4) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, a wait of more than 18 years (petitions filed October 22, 1992)


Being on the monthly priority date list for a green card is good news for those waiting, though the dates are subject to change and often do, meaning that some who thought their long wait was over must wait even longer.

It’s not unusual to see waits of close to 20 years or more by family members abroad being sponsored by relatives in the United States. Those in some countries, especially Mexico and the Philippines, must wait in a far longer line than others.

The reason for these long waits is that every nation is allotted the same percentage from a pool of family and employer-based visas available each year, regardless of the demand from any individual nation. For those waiting in countries represented by large immigrant populations here - for example Mexico, the Philippines, China and India - there is an especially high demand for family reunification, and the wait for an immigrant visa can take a surprisingly long time.

Immigrants defined as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, such as spouses, parents, and children under 21, are exempt from the limits (although U.S.-born children of immigrants must be 21 in order to sponsor their parents, and penalties apply if the parents entered illegally). But other relatives must wait in line until their priority date comes up.

The entire Visa Bulletin for April 2011 can be viewed here. Visa bulletins for March and previous months can also be viewed online.

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