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

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

It’s the beginning of May, which means it's time for another look at the U.S. State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin. Each month the bulletin lists which categories of hopeful immigrants are up to receive immigrant visas, as well as who has been waiting the longest.

Little has changed since last month. Those who have been in line the longest, sponsored to come to the United State legally by their relatives, are hopeful immigrants from the Philippines. And the wait remains staggering: The ones who have waited the longest filed their petitions back in 1988.

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

2) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 19 years (petitions filed February 15, 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 1, 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, i.e. the dates on which their petitions were filed, are listed in the visa bulletin. Being on the monthly priority date list is good news, of course, for those waiting. However, the dates are subject to change and often do. This means that some who thought their long wait was over must continue waiting.

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 – 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 surprisingly long time.

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 longer line than others. Long waits, though quite not as long, also apply to China and India: Siblings of U.S. citizens in those countries whose turn has come up have been waiting in line since 2000.

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.

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