A technical but important event occurred earlier this month when the upcoming April 2013 Visa Bulletin was released. For many Central Americans who have been waiting patiently since 2001 for the opportunity to gain lawful immigration status, the release of this document has unlocked a door that has been closed to them for over a decade.
Some of our readers may be familiar with adjustment of status under Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 245(i) is important because it offers an alternate path to adjustment of status (“fixing your papers within the USA”) even if the applicant entered the country without permission, even if s/he worked without authorization, and even s/he entered with a visa which s/he overstayed or violated.
Section 245(i) was created in the 1990s but many potential applicants did not take advantage of it. The window for using this process was extended in the late days of the Clinton administration and included a filing deadline of April 30, 2001. Applicants pay a fine of $1,000 in order to utilize this alternate process, but they (like all visa applicants) must wait for a visa to become available.
That wait is not insignificant — it can take years and years, even ten, 15, or 20 years for a visa to be made available. In fact, what makes the April 2013 Visa Bulletin significant is that it reflects the first time* that the F-4 category (visas through U.S. citizen siblings) has been available to countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and others for applicants with the filing date of April 30, 2001.
The largest group of undocumented immigrants — from Mexico — still have a long wait before that fabled period of early 2001 reaches current visa availability. Mexico’s visa line is still so far backlogged that visas in the F-4 category are only available for applicants who filed prior to September 1, 1996. You can review the April 2013 Visa Bulletin here.
When our conversation centers on the requirement that undocumented individuals “get in the back of the line,” it is important to remember what that means. For thousands of long-patient applicants from Central America, the back of the line has finally reached fruition.
* A note: visa availability for these categories actually came available in late 2010 but quickly retrogressed because the Department of State realized that it had moved the line forward to aggressively. Most individuals who filed for their visas during this period had their cases processed and then held in abeyance. Approval notices and interview notices for eligible cases on hold from this period are being issued now.