Tag Archives: Visa Bulletin

Visa Bulletin advances, opens door closed since 2001

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.


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Senators’ opening bid for Comprehensive Immigration Reform has echoes of past proposals

A day before President Barack Obama is slated to visit the Silver State and deliver a speech outlining principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), a group of U.S. Senators has unveiled its own set of general proposals. Although visible progress is a welcome sign to immigration advocates who thought they may have to wait until spring for any action, the details of what is being proposed are strongly reminiscent of past proposals that have not borne fruit.

Echoing all CIR proposals since 9/11, this one attempts to forge bipartisan compromise by tying any broad-based path to citizenship with “increased enforcement and border security.” Advocates of CIR have often asked in recent years what would satisfy this criterion if 400,000 deportations per year and a decade of constant year-over-year budget increases for enforcement are deemed to have not been enough.

Cheerleaders for CIR can find encouragement in the fact that the Senate is leading the way — although the political makeup of the Senate is arguably less conducive to passing a broad package of reforms, it also has higher procedural hurdles for advancing legislation. The most recent effort to pass immigration law reform — approval of the DREAM Act to offer relief to young undocumented immigrants — died in the Senate after failing to overcome a filibuster. Similarly advocates should be optimistic that broad principles are being introduced and a path to citizenship for all of the estimated 11-12 million aspiring citizens is on the table — some advocates had worried that only a piecemeal set of small reforms could pass both houses of Congress and that some groups might be left out. Finally, it is obvious that the political environment is different in 2013 than it was throughout President Obama’s first term: on this issue perhaps less so because he is a re-elected president who is seen as deserving to implement his mandate and more because the Republican Party desperately wants to make a viable bid for Latino votes in 2014 and beyond.

But the news is not all cheery when seen through a political handicappers eyes. First, the community of immigration advocates, aspiring citizens, and their families should know now that power players in Washington posturing toward a goal does not guarantee that said goal will be realized. The proposals being ballyhooed today are very similar to those put forth in prior Congresses dating back half a decade or more and changes in the electorate, where they have occurred, are arguably more stepwise than sweeping.

Some of the familiar ideas in this proposal include:

  • More border security including the use of drones to patrol the borders and a promise to provide Customs and Border Protection with the tools and resources it needs to “apprehend every unauthorized entrant;”
  • A path to Permanent Residence for aspiring citizens who pay fines and back taxes and pass a background check;
  • Expansion of high-skill work visas such as the tiny number in the H-1B category;
  • Provisions for an accelerated “alien entrepreneur” residency for job creators;
  • An improved system for employment authorization verification; and
  • Some form of guest worker program

Among the new approaches in this proposal are:

  • An explicit “enforcement-first” approach that would rely on approval from a new commission of governors rather than the usual rhetoric of “we have to secure the borders before we discuss legalization”; and
  • A new system for proactively tracking exits from the country to prevent overstays of temporary visas (one study finds that 38 to 50 percent of all unauthorized immigrants overstayed their visas).

Finally, there are a few potential poison pills in what is being proposed:

  • The enforcement-first approach is engineered to provide political cover for both sides if negotiations break down or bills fail to win approval — one political party can point to concerns over border security and the other can score political points by highlighting its rival’s intransigence;
  • We again see the notion that those currently out of status must “go to the back of the line,” but it is unclear precisely what is meant by this. For some visa categories (see the recent Visa Bulletin here) the “back of the line” is a far-flung place 16, 19, or even 23 years in the past.
  • Universal employment authorization — many observers say that to truly achieve robust, universal employment verification the U.S. would have to implement a national identification card that every authorized worker would bear. Such a proposal faces staunch opposition from civil liberties advocates from both ends of the political spectrum.
  • Ours is still a bicameral legislature, and any proposal must appeal not only to a handful of Republican Senators but also to enough Republicans in the House to make it to a vote and survive. The attitude that the Republican Party must moderate its policies if it is to survive is not one that is universally held.

All in all, we have this week signs of progress but nothing upon which to make firm plans or even friendly bets. President Obama will weigh in when he visits Las Vegas tomorrow and we will continue to keep an eye on these developments.

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Filed under Advocacy, Enforcement, Immigrant Rights, Legalization Process, National News, Uncategorized, Undocumented Immigrants

Fiscal year 2012-13 opens with disappointment for immigrant families facing long waits

The federal government began its new fiscal year on October 1, 2012. This transition, both of new month and new year, has implications for a large portion of the family-based immigration system known as the Family Preference System. As we detail below, the new fiscal year opened on a disappointing note for many families hoping to be reunited with loved ones abroad such as spouses (2 years, 4 months of waiting for most countries), adult children (7 to 20 years delay depending on the country and other factors), or siblings (after 12 years for most of the world, 16.5 years for Mexico, and almost 24 years for the Philippines.)

If you are baffled by these absurd wait times you are not alone. We’ll try to explain these phenomena:

Applicants for family-based immigrant visas are broken up into two main categories: Immediate Relatives and Preference Immigrants. Immediate Relatives (IRs for short) are the parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21 years of age of U.S. citizens (native-born or naturalized). IRs do not have to wait for a visa once they are petitioned for — as soon as the family relationship exists and is verified they can begin the process of applying for an immigrant visa. (Note: IRs are still subject to the grounds of inadmissibility, deportability, and other possible roadblocks. The difference is that they do not have to wait to find out about these problems).

By contrast Preference Immigrants are categorized into different groups such as F-1 (unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. ┬ácitizens), F-2A (spouses and unmarried children of Permanent Residents), F-2B (unmarried adult sons and daughters of Permanent Residents), F-3 (married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens), and F-4 (siblings of U.S. citizens). The good thing about being a Preference Immigrant is that you and your children and spouse (usually) can all be included under one visa and when your time comes your “derivative” relatives are eligible too. The bad thing is that the waiting times can be brutal.

Preference Immigrants are subject to annual caps on each of the above five types of visas which total 226,000 per year. Further, each country may have no more than 7 percent of the visas in a given category in a given year. As an example 65,000 of the total worldwide principal visas are allocated for the F-4 category, and no more than 4,550 of these visas may go to natives of the Philippines. Because there are many people in the United States who are of Filipino descent there are more than 4,550 F-4 petitions filed each year. As a result the leftover applications from one year automatically roll over into the next year and take up that year’s allocation of 4,550 visas. Over time we end up with one year’s applicants “cannibalizing” the visas for the next year or two and the line grows and grows and grows.

To illustrate this we look at the F-4 category for the Philippines in the Visa Bulletin for October 2012: for this month the Department of State (which controls the release of visas) is only processing visa requests made on or before February 8, 1989. That’s where we get the 24-year figure (difference between today’s date and the date currently eligible for a visa.) You can explore the rest of the Visa Bulletin to see how backlogged many other categories are.

The Department of State does its best to monitor supply and demand for immigrant visas and to predict which dates should be available for which categories. Sometimes (as in winter 2010-2011) it gets the dates wrong and the available dates jump backward after a few overly optimistic months, and the start of the new fiscal year is a time to recalibrate the system for the new year. A large portion of the immigrant community is watching anxiously for the F-4 category to creep beyond April 30, 2001 because many petitions were filed around this date to take advantage of a law known as Section 245(i). For these and many other families the slow progression of the dates in the Visa Bulletin is another reminder of how patient they must be in order to obtain the desired result from our outdated, confusing, and sometimes broken immigration system. We continue to watch optimistically for signs that our elected officials can find common ground and make some needed changes to this and other aspects of our immigration laws.

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