The US immigration process is long and complicated. You are required to make sense of an immense amount of paperwork and wait several years at a time to make a case in front of the immigration officials. The backlog of immigration visas has reached a record level over the past few years. During the Trump administration, the rate of denial and Requests for Evidence (ROE) for immigrant cases also reached a record high.

All of this just seems to increase the waiting time for US visas even more. The long and complicated steps and the annual visa caps placed on certain visa categories can make this waiting time exceptionally difficult. On top of that, the global pandemic has significantly impacted US immigration, causing delays due to the closure of US embassies and immigration offices.

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We all know that US visas involve a long waiting period but what exactly is the reason for this and will the conditions improve under the Biden Administration?

Why Does the US Visa Process Take So Long?

An immigrant visa allows you to live and work in the US permanently. This is also known as a Permanent Residence Card or a “Green Card”. There are several ways to apply for a Green Card in the US but most immigrant visas fall under the following categories:

  • Family-Based Immigrant Visas
  • Employment-Based Immigrant Visas
  • Diversity Visas
  • Refugee and Asylum Seekers
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Regardless of the category you are applying for, the immigration process will involve multiple government agencies including the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the US Department of State.

The usual process requires you to submit your visa application with supporting documents and evidence, getting reviewed by the USCIS and completing an interview. For family-based applications, the petitioner must file Form I-130 from inside the US for a sponsor who is currently either living in the US or abroad. Some visas may require your sponsor to file an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) to demonstrate that they will financially support you when you are in the US to avoid you from becoming a public charge.

The US receives more immigration applications than any other nation in the world, therefore, it is natural that the processing times are longer than usual. Longer wait times do not mean that your application is at fault. You can check the processing time for your application on the USCIS Processing Time website. You can also request information about your case if it’s past the date of the usual wait period.

What Are the Other Reasons for Longer Wait Times?

The US immigration laws have limits on the number of Green Cards that can be issued in most categories every year. Based on when you applied, your application will be processed on that priority date. The priority date is the date when you receive a visa number.

In 2017, there were 3.7 million people on the waitlist for a visa number to apply for a green card. And this was just people waiting to apply from abroad. This does not include the number of people waiting inside the US to apply for a green card through Adjustment of Status.

Immediate relatives of US citizens including spouses, dependent children and parents are exempt from the priority date. While other family members like married children of US citizens, siblings of US citizens or spouses and children of permanent residents are not exempt from priority dates and have to wait for a visa number. The Department of State publishes the Visa Bulletin every month to announce which priority date is up for which visa category.

How Are Wait Times Affected by Resident Countries?

Since there is a limit on the number of visas that can be issued each year by the government, there is also a limit on the number of visas issued to the citizens of a single country. According to the US immigration law, no more than 7% of all immigrant visas can be granted to the citizens of one country every year. Therefore, applicants from countries that submit a high volume of applications every year experience longer waiting times. This includes citizens of China, India, Mexico and the Philippines.

Wait times for Indians and Mexicans have grown by 4 and half years and 3 years and 2 months respectively since 1991, a year after country quotas were imposed. Indians had the longest waiting period of all the countries, 8 and a half years, in 2018, according to the statistics compiled by the CATO institute. The average waiting time was 6 years for all immigrant visa categories.

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Waiting times for non-immediate relatives are the longest. Currently, the wait time for Filipino siblings of adult American citizens is an average of 23 years. Even children over the age of 21 that are either Filipino or Mexican have to wait for 22 years to be eligible for a green card. Family-based and employment-based visas have the longest waiting times. The future waiting times are even grimmer, increasingly reflecting, more applicants will die before receiving a chance to apply for a green card.

Why Would Your Case be Taking Longer Than Expected? 

Mostly, if your application is complete, it does not take much time to be processed. However, there are some circumstances under which your case might be taking longer than expected to be processed. This could be due to errors and omissions. Luckily, these can be easily fixed.

Your File is Lost or Misplaced:

This scenario is highly unlikely but not impossible. The USCIS may lose your file or certain documents may get shuffled. To avoid ramifications, you must ensure that you have copies of everything you submit. So it becomes easier to resubmit any documents that have been lost or misplaced by the USCIS.

Notice Sent to the Wrong Address:

Changing your address anytime while your case is being processed requires you to inform the USCIS to avoid missing any notices. Failing to update the USCIS could mean missing important notices for biometric appointments or interview summons. This could lead to a negative decision in your case. Therefore, it is important to inform all the offices involved other than the USCIS about the change in your address.

Security Checks:

Most applicants are required to submit biometric information. The immigration officials use this information to run background and security checks through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Having an undisclosed previous conviction or arrest can delay your case while the authorities verify your records with the local authorities.

Responding to Request for Evidence (RFE) with Appropriate Documents: 

Make sure to go the extra mile in submitting supporting documents if you receive an RFE from the USCIS. Your RFE notice will specify the kind of documents you need to submit. Make sure to submit it on time and avoid delaying your case.

How the Biden Administration Plans to Respond to Longer Wait Times?

The Biden Administration has made it clear that immigration will be treated as a priority. They even plan to undo a lot of measures put in place by the Trump administration by making systematic changes to improve the immigration process.

The Congress is moving to improve waiting times under the Biden administration. The Senate already passed a bill to increase family-based visa caps from 7 to 15% on family-based visas in December 2020. The bill will eliminate country visa-caps on employment-based visas, overall relieving the processing time of all visa categories. They hope to make employment visas more merit-based by cutting the per-country caps.

President Biden has introduced the US Citizenship Act for 2021 which will provide 8-year immigration pathways for 11 million undocumented immigrants. The Biden administration will also allow dreamers – children who entered the US with an unauthorized status and refugees currently in the US to apply for Green Cards immediately. They will also exempt spouses and dependent children of lawful permanent residents from the visa caps currently in place.

The Trump administration focused increasingly on enforcement and fraud prevention which created backlogs by slowing down the processing of cases. The focus on enforcement also decreased personnel and resources of the USCS which slowed down the immigration process. The Biden administration plans to use technology for border enforcement and border security, allowing the officials to move towards making the processing times shorter.

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