Many people often know someone seeking legal immigration status in the U.S. and ask how a U.S. citizen may help them to obtain a green card. The most common routes to U.S. permanent residence (or a “green card”) are via family members or employers. Other routes exist, such as asylum or U visas, but those require additional special conditions and circumstances to qualify. Therefore, most seeking to make the U.S. their home must be lucky enough to find an employer willing to undergo the sponsorship program or have a close family member already living in the U.S. as a permanent resident or citizen.
But for even those limited individuals directly related to a U.S. citizen or green card holder, a green card may take many years to get. The U.S. family-based immigration system limits the amount of annual immigrant visas granted to the family of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. As a result of this limitation, queues for some of these visas have formed dating back over decades.
For example, U.S. citizens 21 years or older can petition for their siblings to get green cards but their brothers or sisters can expect to wait at least 16 years before a green card may be issued. The visa system places additional limitations on how many visas are granted to citizens of countries that migrate the most frequently to the U.S.: China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines. As such, siblings of U.S. citizens that happen to have been born in India must wait at least 18 years. The Philippines? 21 years. Mexico? 23 years.
Other family categories see similar or even longer waits. U.S. citizens can file for their adult children (21 years or older). If these sons or daughters are unmarried, they can expect to wait at least 8 years before they become eligible for a visa. This jumps to 11 years for natives of the Philippines and 22 years for natives of Mexico. If they are married, the wait for all sons or daughters sits at 14 years regardless of country of origin, while sons and daughters of U.S. citizens hailing from Mexico have been waiting over 25 years, or since January 15, 1998, to get green cards through this method. A parent beginning this process for their married adult son or daughter from Mexico now may be waiting until 2048 if wait times remain the same. And if the petitioning parent passes away before a visa is available, the case may be completely denied outside of some limiting circumstances.
For those lucky enough to have a close family member willing to petition for them to live in the United States, long wait times can make that an impractical dream. The more limited legitimate routes are to permanent residence in the United States, the more likely individuals are to seek out alternative means.
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