How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Family visas: Who waited longest this month, and what could change

Source: Visa Bulletin for June 2013, U.S. Department of State

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

It's been more than a month since we looked at the wait for immigrant visas, and while the lines haven't changed, a few things have on the legislative front.

Last month, a handful of amendments proposed softening the blow to the family-sponsored visa system in the pending Senate immigration bill, which proposes cutting some family categories in favor of issuing more employment-based and merit-based visas.

As it stands, the bill proposes eliminating immigrant visas for adult siblings of U.S. citizens — the category that faces the biggest backlogs — and setting an age cap of 30 for adult married children of U.S. citizens. Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii had proposed several amendments involving family visas, including one that would preserve the two categories.

Most of these didn't make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, but one amendment did: A proposal from Hirono exempting the children of Filipino WWII veterans from numerical visa limits. The amended Senate bill now includes a provision that would spare these immigrants waits of a decade or more as they try to join aging parents in the U.S.

If the bill becomes law, this group would be cleared from the applicant backlogs that lead to long waits for a green card. But for now, at least, the waits for many adult children of U.S. citizens — along with siblings and others — are still excruciatingly long.

Here are the categories with the longest waits for June, according to this month's U.S. State Department Visa Bulletin:

1) Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 23 years (petitions filed November 8, 1989).

This category stands to be eliminated under the current Senate proposal.

2) Married adult (21 and over) sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 20 years (petitions filed November 15, 1992).

3) Married adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, a wait of more than 20 years (petitions filed April 8, 1993)

The Senate bill proposes capping the age for visas for adult married children at 30.

4) Unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. legal permanent residents from Mexico, a wait of 20 years (petitions filed June 15, 1993).

The Senate bill proposes removing annual limits on green cards for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents. But unmarried 21-and-over children of legal residents would still have to wait.

The preference shift in the Senate bill away from family toward work- and merit-based visas could leave some women out in the cold, immigrant advocates have argued, since the bulk of work visas are awarded to men. To that end, Hirono and a bipartisan group of female senator have introduced a new amendment that would create new visa opportunities for female immigrants, and would allow them to apply for work visas in areas such as nursing and teaching.

Hirono has also filed a new amendment to retain the two family visa categories that are on the chopping block; another Hawaii Democrat, Brian Schatz, has filed an amendment that would restore these categories 10 years after the bill becomes law.

In the meantime, immigrant advocates and Asian-American groups have continued calling for the the sibling and adult married child categories to remain intact; a large number of Asian immigrants enter the U.S. through the family visa system.

Why do immigrants from some countries face longer waits than others? Under the current system, each nation gets the same percentage from a pool of family and employer-based visas available each year, regardless of demand. In countries such as Mexico, the Philippines, China, and India, where there is the most demand for family reunification in the U.S., this translates into many people waiting for a relatively small number of visas. Hence, longer lines.

The bulletin shows the dates on which visa applicants' paperwork went into the system. Having one’s priority date appear in the visa bulletin is good news. But these dates are subject to change and are often pushed back, resulting in even longer waits.

Immigrants defined as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens — spouses, parents, and children under 21 — are exempt from the limits.

See the entire Visa Bulletin for June 2013 here.

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