The Waiting Game Part I: Immigrating Through A Family Member

Who is eligible to immigrate to the United States and how long do they have to wait?

I have been following the comments on my first blog post very carefully and I am gratified that we are having such a vigorous discussion about immigration. 

I apologize for the delay in posting my second blog. I was having some technical difficulties which have been resolved. 

In future posts I shall address the following issues: the border, immigrants and welfare benefits; immigrants and crimes; immigrants and the economy; birth-right citizenship; who are the DREAMERS and what benefits do they receive; the Republicans’ immigration plan; and, Obama’s immigration plan. 

I would like to thank one reader who pointed out that I made an error in my previous posting where I stated, “immigration laws were much less strict (unless you were Asian) and until the 1930s it was easy to immigrate to the United States.” In fact, the Quota Act of 1921 restricted immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. The Quota Act of 1921, in conjunction with the Chinese Exclusion Act (and other acts that precluded immmigration from other Asian countries) limited immigration to the United States in the 1920s. I appreciate having such an educated readership. 

Vocabulary List:  

United States Citizen: A person who was born in the United States, or has one or more parents who are United States citizens; or who naturalized (applied for and received U.S. citizenship)

Lawful Permanent Resident: A person who has immigrated to the United States and has a green card. A lawful permanent resident can live and work in the United States permanently (as long as he or she is not convicted of certain crimes); he or she can bring certain family members to the United States as lawful permanent residents; and after either three or five years, she or he can apply for citizenship

Non-immigrant visas: Visas that allow people to visit, work, or attend school in the United States for a set period of time

Undocumented Immigrants: People living in the United States without proper immigration status

To have an intelligent conversation about U.S. immigration policy, we have to start with the numbers. Who can immigrate to the United States? How many people legally immigrate to the United States each year? How long does a person have to wait to immigrate to the United States? And, can a person wait in the United States for his or her visa to become available?

Using figures from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: Office of Immigration Statistics, see www.dhs.gov/files/statistics/publications/LPR10.shtm, and the U.S. Department of State, www.travel.state.gov, I created the following table.

You can go to these websites to look at these data. These tables show who legally immigrated to the United States in 2011 and what the wait is for each type of immigrant visa. In this post, I shall discuss the numbers for family-based immigration; which family members can legally immigrate to the United States and how long it takes. 

Most people cannot stay in, or even visit the United States while they are waiting for their immigrant visas to become available. To qualify for most non-immigrant visas (e.g. visitor visas, student visas, temporary worker visas) the applicant must show that she or he does not intend to immigrate. If an applicant has applied for an immigrant visa and is waiting for the visa to become available, the government generally does not allow the person in to the United States until his or her immigrant visa becomes available. 

There are a few exceptions to this policy. One of the most common ones is for persons who have certain non-immigrant professional worker visas. They are allowed to continue living and working in the United States until their immigrant visa becomes available. Often you will meet immigrants who first came to the United States on a student visa; upon graduation they got a job and their employer applied for and obtained a non-immigrant professional worker visa; and after several years an employer applied for and obtained an immigrant professional worker visa. This process takes several years.   

Several years ago a friend of mine who is an engineer from England became a U.S. citizen. After he became a citizen, we talked about the ceremony. He was very concerned that so many immigrants could bring all of their family to the United States. I held myself back from asking him what he was talking about.  Instead, I asked him who he thought he could bring to the United States now that he was a U.S. citizen. He thought that he could bring his parents (true), his grandparents (false), his siblings (true), his spouse (true), his children (true),
and his aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren (false, false, false, false, false and false). The chart posted below lists the only
people who can immigrate to the United States through a family member.

People who wish to immigrate to the United States often have two choices. They can either remain in their home country until their immigrant visa becomes
available, or they live in the United States in undocumented status. Some people stay here because they do not want to tear their family apart; and, some people stay here because if they leave they will not be able to return for a minimum of 10 years even with a current visa. Many of the undocumented immigrants in the United States live in mixed families where the spouse is a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen, and some of the children might be U.S. citizens while others might be undocumented.  

To summarize the information about the numbers of immigrants to the United States, in 2011, more than one million people, or 1,062,040 people legally immigrated to the United States. The numbers in the charts will not completely add up because I did not include some of the more obscure ways to immigrate to the United States because those numbers are too small to make a significant difference. Here is a chart of which family members immigrated to the United States, how long the wait is to immigrate, and how many people immigrated to the United States as family members in 2011:

Immigrating Through A Family Member


Who can immigrate?


How many people  immigrated in this category in 2011?


How long is the wait for this category?


Spouses of U.S. citizens; parents of adult U.S. citizens; and minor, unmarried children of U.S. citizens




There is no wait for this category


Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their minor children




If the immigrant is from Mexico, the wait is about 20 years; if the immigrant is from the Philippines,  the wait is about 15 years; if the immigrant is from any other country the wait is about seven years


Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children




If the immigrant is from Mexico, the wait is about 20 years; if the immigrant is from the Philippines, the wait is about 21 years; if the immigrant is from any other country, the wait is about 11 years


Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters of green-card holders




The wait for spouses and minor children is about 2.5 years for immigrants from all countries; the wait for unmarried sons and daughters (21 years old and older) varies with the country. Unmarried sons and daughters from Mexico have to wait about 20 years; unmarried sons and daughter from the Philippines have to wait about 11 years; and unmarried sons and daughters from any other country the wait is about 8 years


Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. Citizens and their spouses and minor children




If the immigrant is from the Philippines  the wait is about 24.5 years; if the immigrant is from Mexico, the wait is about 16.5 years; if the immigrant is from any other country the wait is about 12 years.


Next week: The Waiting Game Part II: Immigrating Through an Employer And Other Ways To Immigrate

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bob M January 23, 2013 at 04:24 PM
Merle, The number I do not see in your reporting (unless I just missed it) is the number of Permanent Residents allowed to immigrate that are NOT related to any current legal immigrant or US Citizen. Every category you listed had a tie to someone already in the country. Just those total to over a Million people a year, 1/6th the population of the entire Bay Area, every year. And, do the relatives to the "anchor" immigrant fill most of these slots making it even more difficult for one individual to get a green card? Does accepting a temporary visa (tourist, student, temp worker, etc) make you un-eligible for a green card for a period of time?
AR January 23, 2013 at 05:39 PM
the term "Undocumented Immigrant" is not mentioned in DHS terms list at all: http://www.dhs.gov/definition-terms the terms used in legal statutes are "illegal alien" and "unauthorized alien" to place them in the context of the Alien and Sedition acts.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 23, 2013 at 11:00 PM
@AR The term "undocumented immigrant" is a product of the media industry. It's a politically correct way for reporters to categorize people and avoid terms that could be considered offensive.
JustUs January 23, 2013 at 11:16 PM
You are correct, Vanessa. It's all part of the bigger plan to reward criminals and punish law-abiding citizens. That is what America has evolved into. Hollywood and the media has locked arms with the government in spreading this propoganda to poison the minds of obedient US citizens into thinking that rewarding criminal aliens is a good thing. It is a form of deep-seated propoganda - the same type that Goebbels and the boys who worked for Stalin used 70 odd years ago. Any true-blue American should be thoroughly disgusted.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 23, 2013 at 11:22 PM
@JustUs I wouldn't say it's part of a plan to reward criminals and punish law-abiding citizens. And as a media professional, I'm certainly not locking arms with anyone to spread propaganda. Using this term is a way to describe a person without resorting to emotionally saturated terms that cloud conflict resolution.
JustUs January 23, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Merle, being in the business of law and immigration - you must realize how often these so-called 'rules' are circumvented and gamed. If someone's visa ran out and they are in the country illegally - if they arranged a marriage with a citizen it would give them full legal right to remain in the nation and gain a path to citizenship, usually within 3-5 years. You must know that. And do you have any idea how often fraudulent foreign documents are used to show that someone is an immediate family member of a naturalized US citizen to gain admission to the US when they actually aren't? And what happens if a naturalized US citizen brings his foreign family over here and vows financial responsibility - then loses his job and cannot afford to care for his relatives who now have full legal status? Does the government throw them out? Of course not. They provide them with public assistance, don't they? And when the illegal alien female in her 7 month of pregnancy sneaks across the border and walks into any California ER she gets fully serviced for her prenancy, doesn't she, Merle? At the expense of the taxpayers, I might add. And many times these women had poor pre-natal care which can result in problem pregnancies and a $million$ or more of taxpayer dollars to service one pregnancy. Isn't that right, Merle. Then once released from the hospital with baby she gets free food, shelter, medical care and spending money. Doesn't she, Merle? So let's provide full disclosure.
JustUs January 23, 2013 at 11:43 PM
"@JustUs I wouldn't say it's part of a plan to reward criminals and punish law-abiding citizens." If not intentional, then why would they hide the truth from us, Vanessa? Hiding something takes effort. When is the last time you saw the media report the damage (financial and social) that illegal immigration has inflicted on our society? Now think about it. Why would that go unreported unless it was intentional? It should be part and parcel of news that should be made available to the public, since we pay the taxes that finances government operations, correct??? Why would they hide it. Concealment requires effort, Vanessa. Please keep that in mind. And sugar coating the legal description of 'criminal alien' or 'illegal alien' as 'undocumented immigrant' is just another concerted effort to intentionally make illegals look better than what they are....in other words 'to reward them' at the expense of the US citizen taxpayers. It is easy to make excuses. It is much harder to think rationally and logically and overcome the deceit and deception we are fed on a daily basis.
Jeanne Rajabzadeh January 24, 2013 at 12:32 AM
Our health care system is very generous. People come to the US with visitor visa or a student visa knowing that are seriously ill and need surgery or expensive medication. When they get here they make a trip to the emergency room and get free treatment.
ROBERT E. FISHBACK January 24, 2013 at 01:12 AM
If you follow my advice, this thread will go silent: Nothing is exactly the way you like it. If you want a country molded to your exact specs. go look for one. If you find this country not according to your exact order. pack your bag, and get the hell out of here. Other wise, shut up your belly aching and actually do something.
JustUs January 24, 2013 at 01:43 AM
Countries are normally created to benefit their own citizens, not illegal intruders from 3rd world banana republics. Jesus and his Father, God, created the 10 commandments based upon rule of law. All the commandments call for an orderly, moral and lawful approach to life. By cheerleading illegal migrants you are going against the word of Jesus and his Father, God, IMHO. Jesus would not promote a man breaking into your house, using your bed to sleep in or your refrigerator to eat out of, would he? Of course not, Robert. If a man broke into your home and started acting like he owned it I bet you would grab the phone so quickly and call 911 it would make my head spin. So let's have some grounded, real and honest conversation here. Shall we??
JustUs January 24, 2013 at 01:45 AM
That's right, Jeanne. Free medical care compliments of the citizen taxpayers. It is a dirty, unfair and unjust system. Anyone who believes in fairness and justice would agree with us.
Bob M January 24, 2013 at 01:51 AM
@Robert E. said, "If you follow my advice, this thread will go silent". I believe this was a spirited discussion full of questions and you tried to turn it hostile. Since you are such a wise man, please follow your own advice;"...go silent". I don't remember the origin but there is an old saying, "It is better to remain silent and look like a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt".
Mirena January 24, 2013 at 06:00 AM
Hey, I've been waiting to elaborate on the immigrants and "making a life" and driving ... Why should I have to do everything right and read and pass the exam at 97% so ICANN can drive legit in California, and them (regardless of country) just hop in a car and drive? It's not fair. And no wonder they always give you the right of way, it's simply because they don't know how to drive, stop or yield to. Shoot, as far as I know cars come first in Mexico and pedestrians better skiddatle or else ite a memorial on the sidewalk. and I have walked around a block or two to have some (SIC) numbskull keep going and almost run me over, even a lady or two. What I mean is common, at least do it right, read the book, take the test and Make a Life. I am sick of others coming here and gettin' it easy with out being an American, All American American. You guys say here in patch there is civil rights because everyone's "committing a comment" then let's see, let us put our word out. And I's sure like to hear what race that person was who recently commuted the community college crime in Texas. See what's true.
JustUs January 24, 2013 at 06:56 AM
The bottom line to all of this is very simple: We should not be rewarding criminals who break into our country by giving them a 'path to citizenship' while we punish law-abiding prospective immigrants who play by the rules, pay their fees, go through a background check, fill out their paperwork and submit it and take their exams or health screening by putting their entry in the United States on hold for up to 10 years. THAT IS JUST PLAIN WRONG BY ANY MEASURE OF JUSTICE OR FAIRNESS. It is so wrong from any moral or legal point of view it's not even funny. America is supposed to be about fairness and equity. When you punish obedient people and reward lawbreakers it is the antithesis of justice and fairness. I'm sorry! But that is the truth!
Purvis Granger January 24, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Vanessa, you should take great satisfaction in your comment being confirmed by JustUs, albeit in a grammatically incompetent fashion. You're lucky. You posted during "Internet time" at his facility.
JustUs January 24, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Pruv, I see you got another 'day pass', eh? Wonderful. Make good use of your time. I suggest you go to the zoo. It's incredibly therapeutic. Although it's a little rainy, enjoy your day. I think a day bus pass is $5. Stay dry!
Purvis Granger January 24, 2013 at 04:57 PM
JustUs, thank you for borrowing my theme. That's awfully creative of you. Do you guys have any other kind of creative outlets like working with beads or macramé? I think you'd be great at macramé, as it requires no thought and is mindlessly repetitive.
Jim C January 26, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Jim C January 26, 2013 at 05:09 PM
"Other wise (sic), shut up your belly aching and actually do something." Robert, this statement is at odds with itself. Speaking up against illegal immigration IS doing something. It's a first step toward resolving the problem. It's just been the last few years where people have been able to speak up against illegal immigration without being branded a racist (and as you know from the other thread, it still happens on occasion). It's a trickle now, but I'm confident that the arguments against illegal immigration will become a torrent soon enough and then we will be able to pressure our elected representatives to fix the problem.
Jim C January 26, 2013 at 05:14 PM
Merle, a question. Has the law changed recently about what "extended family" a citizen can bring in? I grew up in San Francisco and I remember being told by multiple friends at school that their family was bringing cousins into the country. Also, do they do DNA tests or anything like that to verify relationships? It seems to me it would be very simple to say "Yeah, that guy over there is my brother." as not all countries keep meticulous birth records.
JustUs January 26, 2013 at 05:41 PM
" I grew up in San Francisco and I remember being told by multiple friends at school that their family was bringing cousins into the country." I am not an immigration attorney, but immigration law is very complicated and there are a multitude of ways to game it. Doors are left open everywhere for people to sneak in when on it's face the law appears to be cut and dried. Exception #1, exception #2, exception #3.......etc..... I even heard that due to the drug war in Mexico that migrants have been given asylum due to the danger factor. Too bad there is no reciprocal agreement for Americans since we are one of the murder capitals of the world. If anyone should get asylum it should be us. You are thinking way too deeply with the DNA aspect, Jim C. Of course, you are right. It would eliminate the fraud of claiming that "yeah, he's not heavy but he's my brother" fraudulent claims. We all know how easy it is to purchase fraudulent documents, especially those that originate in a foreign land. DNA would obviously solve that problem. But they don't want to solve it, Jim C. That's the whole scam. They want to make it as easy as possible to come to America and access our taxpayer financed resources. They are even about to reward 11M or more illegal aliens who violated our Federal laws while making millions of prospective immigrants who have filled out their paperwork, paid their fees, taken their tests wait on hold for as long as 10 years.
Purvis Granger January 26, 2013 at 06:02 PM
"I am not an immigration attorney." REALLY, JustUs? You need to explain at the outset of such a poorly constructed fantastical rant that you don't possess an advanced degree that requires a mastery of language and logic? I think moving forward you can go without diclaimers, as I think most readers haven't really been under the impression that you possess any relevant credentials or grounded thought. When you were given top secret CIA clearance, (ooooooh) before you purchased the really big calculator and the mobile printing press, you may have been involved in some kind of serious accident? At any rate, I hope that your ward mates can continue to rely on your legal and medical advice.
John Foley January 26, 2013 at 06:38 PM
Just Us and Vanessa are correct--illegal felons are rewarded. What other countries allow you to be a "citizen" by being born there by an illegal parent stealing our hospital services? Sneak I to Sewuoia High and listen to the venom spewed against our great nation by the newly arrived---as they eat their taxpayer FREE food. Watch the behavior during the morning pledge! Turning your back on our flag and pushing your pants down? And in the fields of Watsonville--look for the American flag hoisted upside down under the Mexican bandera!!!wake up people!!!
JustUs January 26, 2013 at 07:09 PM
Purv, you are just the typical village idiot of board commentary. The best way to deal with a person like you is to treat you like a little child. Speak in simple non-complex sentences, pat you on the head and tell you to go outside and play in the street while the adults engage in sophisticated thought and discussion. How does that saying go....."better seen and not heard"??? That aptly describes Purv. heh. Quite a piece of work. heh.
JustUs January 26, 2013 at 07:14 PM
But the liberals hand-wringers and those who make money off the illegal felons will turn a deaf ear to the fact that you convey, John Foley. But if you asked any of them to house ONE illegal family in their homes and pay for for their food, education and medical care ...... they would act extremely offended and call you a 'fascist'. heh. Trying to talk common horse sense to them would be like trying to elicit any sort of brain stimulus from a doorknob. heh.


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