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

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

The line for many immigrants hoping to enter the United States legally remains, as ever, a very long one. So now that the U.S. State Department has posted whose turn is up this month to receive an immigrant visa, let's take a look once more at who has been waiting the longest.

According to the monthly Visa Bulletin, that distinction goes once more to the brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, as is the norm. Those whose turn it is to receive visas this month filed petitions to come legally as immigrants back in November 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 November 1, 1988).

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

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

4) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, a wait of just over 19 years (petitions filed January 1, 1993)

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.

While not as long as the waits for relatives in Philippines and Mexico, people applying for these family-sponsored visas in China and India endure long waits as well, some stretching back to 2000. Why are these waits so long? Every country 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. This is key, since for countries represented by especially large immigrant populations in the U.S. – i.e. Mexico, the Philippines, China and India – there is an especially high demand for family reunification. Since these hopeful immigrants are competing for the same number of available visas as, say, their peers in Switzerland or Uganda, they must wait longer.

It’s a different process for immigrants 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.

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