Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Who had the longest wait for an immigrant visa this month?

It's already October, which means it's time to find out who endured the longest wait this month to come legally to the U.S. as an immigrant. And as has been the case in recent months, it's no surprise: Hopeful immigrants from the Philippines who are being sponsored by U.S. citizen siblings win the contest hands-down, having been waiting in line since 1988.

The line for immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines being sponsored by U.S. citizen and legal resident relatives moves very slowly, meaning it can take decades from the time the paperwork is filed to sponsor an immigrant relative and the time that person actually gets here. According to this month’s Visa Bulletin from the U.S. State Department, here are the top four categories of immigrants who have waited longest for their number to come up:

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

2) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 19 years (petitions filed June 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 November 22, 1992)

4) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, a wait of close to 19 years (petitions filed December 1, 1992)

Why does it take so long? Here's how 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.

Every nation is allotted the same percentage of 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 Mexico, the Philippines, China and India, countries represented by large immigrant populations in the U.S., there is an especially high demand for family reunification. This results in far longer lines for these hopeful immigrants than for people waiting in other countries where the demand isn't as high.

It’s not unusual to see waits of sometimes 20 years or more. Immigrants defined as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, such as spouses, parents, and children under 21, are exempt from these 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 until their priority date comes up. Being on the monthly priority date list is great news for those waiting. However, the dates are subject to change and often do. This means that some who thought their long wait was over will have to wait longer.

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