The U.S. Department of State released a report indicating the number of petitions that are still considered pending for issuance of visas. In the numerical system of immigration, there are only limited number of visas that may be allocated in a given year. The worldwide quota for family based petitions each year is 226,000 and each country gets 7% of this quota. For the petitions filed by US citizens or lawful permanent residents for their qualified relatives in the Philippines, this means that only 15,820 are issued each year.
Immediate relative petitions for spouses, parents and minor children of U.S. citizens do not fall into a category where they have to wait for a visa to be made available. These immediate relative visa petitions have immediate visas available but will have to undergo a visa approval process and a consular processing. On the other hand, family preference petitions relating to petitions filed by U.S. citizens on behalf of their adult single (F1B), adult married children (F3), their siblings (F4) will have to wait for their priority dates to be current. The same holds true to petitions filed by green card holders on behalf of their spouses, unmarried minor (F2A) or unmarried adult (F2B) children.
An approved preference petition will have to wait for its priority date to become current before a visa may be issued. When there are more petitions filed than the visas that are available, a backlog is created. This means that petitions are adjudicated on a first come first serve basis depending on what the priority date is on the petition. Priority date is the date when the petition was filed and it is usually reflected on the the Approval Notice issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Let us examine the severity of the backlogs in family petitions filed on behalf of Filipino nationals. As of November 1, 2018, there are 3,671,442 petitions that are on the pipeline waiting for visas to be issued. The top 3 countries with the highest waiting list are:
- Mexico with 1,229,505
- Philippines with 314,229
- India with 298,571
The petitions that are mostly backlogged for Philippines are petitions by U.S. citizens for their married children (119,315) under the F3 category and those for their siblings (113,489) under the F4 category.
Considering this backlog in the issuance of visa petitions, the longest waiting time for a Filipino family member to receive his/her visa under the F3 and F4 category is 23-24 years. As of the December 2018, the visa petitions that are being processed are those with priority dates of 1995. This means that only petitions that were filed in 1995 are being processed. And if your relative is filing the petition for a sibling or married child in 2018, the waiting time will be 23 years assuming that the the movement of the priority dates is yearly.
Other visa categories like petitions for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents are taking at least 9-10 years before visas are issued. The petitions by lawful permanent residents for their spouses and minor children take more or less 2 years.
With lengthy waiting periods, situations relating to status or health of petitioners and even beneficiaries (persons being petitioned) may change. Some petitioners may live long enough to see the beneficiaries arrive in the United States and be reunited with them. Others may be stricken with illness and eventually decide to return to the Philippines or even die while waiting for their visas to be issued. Unfortunately, the petition dies with the petitioner rule applies generally unless there is humanitarian reinstatement.
Despite this broken immigration system, a Filipino immigrant does not give up and waits patiently for the relative to arrive. Time passes swiftly and I have witnessed significant number of family reunifications through this lengthy petition process. As I often say to my senior citizen clients, stay healthy and in jest, even tell them ‘bawal mamatay’ (you can’t die yet) if you have a pending petition for your relative. For a Filipino immigrant, family is everything. We are all inspired to work hard because of family and in the end “family unity” is what every immigrant attains to achieve.
(Atty. Lourdes Santos Tancinco, Esq. is a San Francisco-based immigration attorney and an immigrant rights advocate. She may be reached at 1 888 930 0808, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/tancincolaw, or through her website www.tancinco.com)