In recent years, much attention has been paid to the long waits for green cards for employer-sponsored immigrants. Many believe such waits harm the competitiveness of U.S. companies, since it makes it more difficult to retain top talent in the United States.
Much less attention has focused on the waits in the family-sponsored immigration categories. The wait times for sponsoring a close family member are long and, in some cases, extremely long. In a November 2010 report, the State Department tabulated more than 4.5 million close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents on the immigration waiting list who have registered for processing at a U.S. post overseas. That does not include individuals waiting inside the United States, such as in a temporary visa status, who would gain a green card via adjustment of status at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. Counting such individuals as well would likely increase the waiting list to over 5 million.
An “immediate relative” of a U.S. citizen can immigrate to America without being subjected to an annual quota. This is important, since it is the relatively low quotas in the family and employer-sponsored preference categories that lead to waits of often many years for would-be immigrants. While there is no numerical limit in the immediate relative category, processing would still normally takes several months. The three primary immediate relatives included in the category are: spouses of U.S. citizens; unmarried children of a U.S. citizen (under 21years old, or under 16 if adopted); and parents of U.S. citizens, if the petitioning citizen is at least 21 years old.
The Preference Categories
Below are the descriptions of the four family-sponsored preferences as detailed in the State Department’s monthly visa bulletin, along with their annual quotas.
“First – Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400 a year.
“Second – Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents: 114,200 A. Spouses and Children: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit; B. Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older): 23% of the overall second preference limitation.
“Third – Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400.
“Fourth – Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens: 65,000.”
The wait times are longer for U.S. residents sponsoring relatives in Mexico and the Philippines. That is because of the per country limits, which generally limit a country to no more than 7 percent in the preference categories. For example, the wait time for a U.S. citizen petitioning for a brother or sister from the Philippines exceeds 20 years. For siblings from countries other than Mexico and the Philippines the wait times are closer to 10 years. These estimates are based on examining the visa bulletins and other data from the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Wait Times for Sponsoring a Relative in India
The wait times for individuals sponsoring relatives who are in India are estimated to be as follows:
Unmarried Adult Children of U.S. Citizens – 7 year wait.
Spouses and Minor Children of Permanent Residents – 3 year wait.
Spouses and Minor Children of Permanent Residents – 8 year wait.
Married Adult Children of U.S. Citizens – 10 year wait.
Siblings of U.S. Citizens – 11 year wait.
More Visas Needed to Reduce Family Wait Times
To reduce family wait times more immigrant visas would need to be added to the family preference categories. H.R. 3012, which would eliminate the per country limit for employment-based immigrants, would help people from India and China in those categories. However, increasing the per country limit from 7 percent to 15 percent in the family categories, which the bill does, would help those waiting the longest for family members from Mexico and the Philippines. By doing so, it would lead to somewhat longer waits for family-sponsored immigrants from other countries, including India. Other than permanently increasing the number of family-sponsored green cards, something Congress has not done since the current quotas were set in 1990, the long wait times for relatives will likely continue.