The journey to reunite families in the United States through immigration is often a long and winding road, primarily due to the significant wait times associated with family immigration visas. Understanding the dynamics behind these wait times is crucial for applicants to set realistic expectations and prepare accordingly.
Why Do Wait Times Occur for Family Immigration Candidates
The wait times for immigrating to the United States when sponsored by a family member are influenced by several factors:
- Annual Quotas and Limits: U.S. immigration law sets annual numerical limits on the number of immigrants who can be admitted to the country. These limits are applied to different categories of family-sponsored visas. For example, there are unlimited visas available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents), but other categories, like siblings of U.S. citizens or married children, have annual caps.
- Priority Dates and Visa Bulletin: Each family-based immigration category has a priority date, which is the date when the immigrant visa application was filed. Immigrants must wait until their priority date becomes current, which means it matches or passes the date listed in the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin. The Visa Bulletin shows the dates for which visas are available, and this availability can be delayed due to the demand exceeding the supply in some categories.
- Country Caps: The U.S. immigration system also imposes limits on the number of visas that can be issued to nationals of any single country. This means that applicants from countries with high levels of immigration to the U.S. often face longer waitscompared to others.
- Administrative Processing and Backlogs: The processing of visa applications involves background checks, document verification, and interviews. These administrative procedures can create backlogs, especially when there are high volumes of applications or limited resources at U.S. consulates and embassies.
- Policy Changes and External Factors: Immigration policies and priorities can change with different administrations. Similarly, external factors such as global events (like pandemics) or changes in international relations can also affect wait times.
- Preference Categories: Family-sponsored immigrants are divided into preference categories, with certain categories having higher priority than others. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are given the highest priority, while other categories (like siblings of U.S. citizens) are lower in priority, leading to longer waits.
These factors combined result in significant variation in wait times, with some applicants waiting a few months to a few years, while others, particularly from oversubscribed countries and in lower-priority categories, may wait decades.
Current Wait Times for Family Immigration
In the December 2023 USCIS Visa Bulletin, there are currently five “chargeability areas” listed for family-sponsored visa applications, divided into five preference categories.
Chargeability areas are the home countries of the people who want to immigrate. Mainland China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines have such high numbers of people seeking to immigrate that they routinely hit the annual country caps, so USCIS breaks these countries out into individual sections of the bulletin. Let’s look at the current wait times for people seeking to immigrate on family sponsorship:
Currently, people in the F2A category have the shortest waits. These are the spouses and unmarried children of current permanent residents. Across the board, these people may submit applications for a visa if their priority date is earlier than September 1, 2023.
Meanwhile, people from Mexico typically have the longest wait times. For example, married children of adult US citizens who were born in Mexico may only apply for their visa if their priority date is on or before April 15, 2001.
That’s a substantial difference. They do not always progress linearly, either. If there is a significant number of new potential applicants, the visa deadline may “retrogress” or move later. If your priority date was current, but the filing date retrogresses, you may no longer be eligible to apply for your visa. For that reason, it’s crucial to check the Visa Bulletin every month if you are waiting for your chance to apply.
A Path Forward
Prospective immigrants and their families must navigate this complex landscape with patience and a thorough understanding of the process. Staying informed about policy changes, regularly checking the Visa Bulletin, and potentially seeking legal advice can help manage expectations and prepare for the long journey ahead. At Litwin & Smtih, we can help you stay on top of your application so you don’t miss your opportunity to apply. Schedule your consultation to learn how we can assist you with immigrating to the US under family sponsorship.