WASHINGTON — Contrary to popular belief, there is not one “line” that leads to legal permanent residence; current immigration law provides multiple paths to permanent residency. With a bipartisan group of senators and the Obama administration advancing immigration reform frameworks that would grant legal permanent residence to eligible unauthorized immigrants only after current immigration backlogs have been cleared, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) today released an issue brief examining key topics associated with lines, wait times and more.
The brief, Going to the Back of the Line: A Primer on Lines, Visa Categories, and Wait Times, is the first in a new series of issue briefs that MPI will publish over the coming weeks focusing on major topics related to the immigration reform debate underway in Washington. MPI also has gathered online its key research and data resources on point to the current debate, accessible at www.migrationpolicy.org/cir.
More than 4.4 million people had approved petitions for legal permanent residence as of November 1, 2012 but were awaiting further adjudication of their cases (generally because their priority dates had not become current), according to the State Department. That 4.4 million estimate does not represent the full extent of the number of applicants “in line” for legal permanent residence because it represents only processing by the State Department, which focuses on people outside the United States. A share of cases, for non-citizens already living in the United States, is handled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which does not publish statistics on the number of pending petitions.
Of the 4.4 million cases pending with the State Department, 97 percent were applicants for family-based visas. A majority came from just a handful of high-demand countries: Applicants from Mexico made up 30 percent of those waiting for green cards, with the Philippines, India, Vietnam and China the other top countries with approved beneficiaries on the State Department’s waiting list.
Currently, U.S. law allows approximately 226,000 green cards annually for immigrants filing through one of several family-based preference categories (there is no numerical limit for the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens or the parents of U.S. citizens over the age of 21). At this rate, it would take 19 years to clear the existing backlogs in the family-based preference categories if no additional visas are allocated, assuming that no additional petitions for family-based preference immigrants were filed during this time and that current filing trends in other visa categories remains similar.
Access MPI’s research and data resources relevant to the current immigration debate at: www.migrationpolicy.org/cir.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.