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Years-Long Wait for a Green Card and What to Do About it

by Dinh Tran, Partner, Queen City Immigration Law. 704-802-9529

A family unit has been the ultimate foundation of every civilization known to history. A healthy and stable family is the key to a prosperous and peaceful society, and a strong nation. Recognizing the importance of the family unit, the policy of the United States on immigration has for a long time been to keep family members together. The immigration law allows United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor their relatives living abroad to come to the United States to live, work and raise their families. Citizens of the United States can petition for their parents, spouses, children, regardless of their age or marital status, and siblings. Lawful permanent residents (“LPR”) can apply for a “green card” for their spouses and unmarried children.

However, the current immigration law framework does not open the door completely wide for all foreign relatives of U.S. citizens and LPRs to immigrate to the United States without any restrictions, placing too much burden on the U.S. economy all at once. Instead, for the most part, the law only allows a fixed number of individuals to become new LPRs each year. While unmarried children under the age of 21, spouses, and parents of U.S. citizens are exempt from the quota, other groups of relatives are subject to the annual numerical limitations, ranging from under 23,000 to over 114,000, depending on the type of relationship and country of birth of the foreign relative.

Whenever the number of people desiring to become permanent residents exceeds the number that can be granted a “green card” each year, a wait list is formed for the surplus. People who are placed on the waitlist are required to wait until the following year or years. In some instances, such as for Mexican and Philippine siblings of U.S. citizens, the demand so greatly exceeds the supply set by Congress that the wait can last more than 20 years. Even the group that needs to be reunited with their families the most, namely spouses and young children of LPRs, face an average wait time of 18 months.

The length of the wait is determined by the number of people applying for a “green card” and the numerical restriction put in place by Congress for each category of relatives. While only Congress can act to increase or eliminate the quota and shorten the wait list for each group of relatives, the petitioning U.S. citizen or LPR must file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service office to lock the place on the list for their relatives. Please contact the attorneys at Queen City Immigration Law to assist you in preparing and filing a petition for your loved ones to immigrate to the United States.