How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Who had to wait the longest for a green card this month?

Source: Visa Bulletin for May 2011, U.S. Department of State

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. (Source: Visa Bulletin for May 2011, U.S. Department of State)

Now that it's June, it's time for another look at the U.S. State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin. Who has been waiting the longest time for an immigrant visa this month?

As is the norm, the line of people being sponsored by relatives to come to the United States legally has been inching along slowly. Like last month, those who have endured the longest wait are hopeful immigrants from the Philippines who filed their petitions back in the late 1980s.

Here's the breakdown of the top four categories who have endured the longest waits:

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

2) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 19 years (petitions filed March 8, 1992)

3) Unmarried adult (21 and over) sons and daughters of U.S. legal permanent residents from Mexico, a wait of close to 19 years (petitions filed August 22, 1992)

4) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, a wait of close to 19 years (petitions filed November 15, 1992)


How it works: Each month, immigrant visas technically become available to those whose priority dates, meaning the dates on which their petitions were filed, are listed in the bulletin. Being on the monthly priority date list is great news for those waiting, but the dates are subject to change, and often do. This means that some who thought their long wait was over must continue waiting.

Why are the waits so long? Every nation is allotted the same percentage of immigrant visas 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 – such as 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 very long time.

It’s not unusual to see waits of close to 20 years or more by family members abroad being sponsored by relatives here. Those in some countries, especially Mexico and the Philippines, must wait in a longer line than others. Those waiting to come from China and India also face long lines, if not as long. The line for the siblings and married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens waiting in those countries stretches back to 2000 and 2001, respectively.

Not all relatives must wait as long. 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). Other relatives must wait until their priority date comes up.

This is the principal way in which non-refugee immigrants come legally to the United States. A small number may also come each year if they win what is called the Diversity Visa Lottery, a program that has been under fire in recent weeks after a computer glitch forced the State Department to void the results. Many people had already been informed they had won, leaving thousands of disappointed would-be immigrants.

The entire Visa Bulletin for May 2011 can be viewed here.

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