How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

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

Nations with current longest waits for family-sponsored based immigrant visas: The priority dates shown are when applicants now up for processing filed petitions. (Source: Visa Bulletin for January 2012, U.S. Department of State)

It's the start of a new month and a new year, but the line to enter the United States legally is as long as ever. According the U.S. State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin, which lists the categories of hopeful immigrants whose turn is up to receive visas, there are some relatives of U.S. citizens in the Philippines and Mexico who have been waiting roughly two decades.

As in recent months, those who have had the longest waits as relatives sponsor them to come as immigrants are the siblings of U.S. citizens in the Philippines. Those whose turn is up this month to receive visas filed their petitions back in October of 1988.

Here are the top four categories of immigrants 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 October 8, 1988).

2) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 19 years (petitions filed July 15, 1992)

It's a close tie for third and fourth place:

3) Unmarried adult (21 and over) sons and daughters of U.S. legal permanent residents from Mexico, a wait of just over 19 years (petitions filed December 1, 1992)

4) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, also a wait of just over 19 years (petitions filed December 22, 1992)

Many others have been waiting since the 1990s, like the unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, for example, who have been waiting since 1993, and those from the Philippines, who have been waiting since 1997. Relatives waiting for family-category visas in China and India don’t necessarily get them quickly either, with some waiting in line since 2000.

What the monthly bulletin shows are priority dates, i.e. the dates on which petitions were filed, as visas technically become available to those waiting. Having one’s priority date appear in the monthly bulletin is good news, but the dates are subject to change and often do, which means that many who thought they’d made it to the front of the line have to keep waiting.

It's different for immigrants who are defined as “immediate” relatives of U.S. citizens, such as spouses, parents, and children under 21, all of whom 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 family members must wait until their priority date comes up.

Why are these waits so long? 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 in the U.S. – such as Mexico, the Philippines, China and India – there is an especially high demand for family reunification, and this makes for especially long visa waits.

In late fall, the House approved a bill referred to as HR 3012, or the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which along with eliminating the per-country caps on employer-based visas would also raise per-country limits on family-based visas from what it is now (no more than seven percent of the total) to 15 percent. The bill has been put on hold in the Senate.

The entire Visa Bulletin for January 2012 can be viewed here.

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