Saturday, March 23, 2013


More than 4 million people have approved petitions for legal permanent residence in the United States but most can’t because their priority dates have not become current.

The Migrant Policy Institute (MPI) has published a brief, the first in a series timed with negotiations on Capitol Hill for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that explains the “line” for people who want to live and work lawfully in the United States.

In Going to the Back of the Line: A Primer on Lines, Visa Categories, and Wait Times they reveal the various ways of winning Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status and eventually, American citizenship.

The Philippines remained the 4th largest source of immigrants in 2012, according to the latest report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.

However, Filipinos comprise the 2nd biggest bloc of immigrants (next only to Mexicans) who acquired US citizenship last year – suggesting the importance they put on becoming Americans as quickly as possible.

The DHS said over a million people were granted legal permanent status in 2012; more than half of them (53 percent) were already in the US when their applications were approved – refugees, temporary workers, students, relatives of US citizens and undocumented immigrants, among others.

The number of new Filipino LPRs grew minimally, from 57,011 in 2011 to 57,327 last year but still fewer than the 58,173 in 2010. Mexico, China and India topped the list.

While immigration was slightly down, naturalizations were up – 757,434 in 2012 compared to 694,193 the previous year. Mexico, the Philippines and India topped this list. The DHS noted a decades-old trend of Asians surpassing Europeans continued in part because more Asian immigrants choose to become American citizens.

This has contributed to building a huge backlog of petitions. The MPI report cited government statistics that showed 723,000 family-based visa petitions and 73,000 employment-based petitions were filed in Fiscal Year 2012.

For 2012, only 370,951 immigrant visas – for both family and employment based petitions – were available under quota limits imposed by Congress (the Immigration Act of 1990 sets an annual limit of between 416,000 and 675,000).

In addition, there are per-country limits equal to 7 percent of the total number of family-sponsored and employment preferences (25,967 per country last year).

“Nationals of countries with especially high levels of demand in certain family-based and employment-based visa categories (currently Mexico, the Philippines, China and India) face longer wait times because fewer visas are issued each year to these countries,” the MPI explained.

For Fil-Ams, the wait times are longest for those petitioning siblings (about 24 years – the longest among all the categories) and adult married children (about 20 years). Employer-based petitions for Filipino workers have a wait time of more than 6 years.

The State Department reported that as of November 2012, there were more than 4.4 million people whose visa petitions (97 percent of them family-based) have been approved but are waiting for the availability of those visas.

Based on current visa ceilings and assuming no new petitions are filed, the MPI estimates it will take the government 19 years to clear this backlog.

The MPI says the visa backlog could even be higher, and it’s uncertain whether some of them may be part of the 11 million estimated undocumented immigrants in the country. “This is a critical point because the impact of any new legalization program on the current backlog will undoubtedly depend on how many unauthorized immigrants are being double-counted,” they said.

The MPI suggested fixing this backlog is crucial to any immigration reform bill that would require undocumented immigrants to “go back the line”.

They added, if Congress and President Obama decide to pursue this path in immigration reforms, they will have to “contemplate adding additional visas in order to be meaningful”.

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