With approximately 10 million people aged 18 to 64 years old, permanent residents and United States (US) citizens from Mexico and Asia constitute a significant portion of the six million petitions and applications that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receive annually.
In 2010, US Census data show there were 3.4 million Filipino Americans living in the US. A year later, the US State Department revised that estimate to about 4 million.
In 2015, the State Department listed that 4,556,021 applicants worldwide were waiting for the issuance of their immigrant visas. Visas are issued after petitions by qualified family members and employers are approved by the USCIS.
Mexico has the highest number of visa petitions filed (and visa issuances pending) at 1,344, 429. The Philippines is a distant second with 415,511 petitions, followed by India at 344,208, Vietnam at 282,375, mainland China at 260,265, and the Dominican Republic at 207,406.
Preferred relatives wait longer
The spouse, minor children and parents of US citizens (categorized as “immediate relatives” under US law) usually get accepted to the US in 10 to 12 months compared to the sisters or brothers of US citizens who would have to wait for up to 25 years. Lawful permanent residents (“LPRs” or green card holders) may apply for citizenship after five years of being LPRs, unless an LPR status was acquired through marriage to a US citizen. In this case, the wait is for only three years, provided the LPR spouse remains married to the US citizen spouse who filed the petition.
Applying for citizenship or naturalization then is the preferred method to bring a spouse, minor children, or a parent to the US. In 2005, a total of 604,280 LPRs applied for citizenship. Of this number, 243,514 are permanent residents from Asia. Among the countries with recurring retrogression dates (because there are more applicants than visa allocation), Filipinos register higher rates of naturalization compared to mainland Chinese and subjects of the Dominican Republic.
How are petitions processed?
The USCIS has 19,000 government employees and contractors working in 223 offices across the globe. These employees and contractors sort out petitions first to determine whether requirements are complete and the fees are paid.
Prior to the 9-11 terror attack, the USCIS was called the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The INS was later dissolved and renamed as the USCIS, one of the three agencies under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Prior to the creation of the DHS in 2002, petitions for alien relatives were filed with INS district offices; grouped into four adjudication centers, which later became service centers. Service centers now handle the processing and adjudication of petitions, applications for immigration services, and benefits. Walk-in applications or questions are not entertained.
Filing and tracking your petition
Petitions for alien relatives (for immediate relatives and preference categories) are currently filed (mailed, couriered) to specific locations (Lock Boxes).
For petitioners with US addresses or residences in any of the states below, the I-130 petition, supporting documents and fees are sent to the following USCIS addresses.
Follow the paper trail
After evaluation and determination that a petition is complete, they are sent to specific service centers: California, Nebraska, Texas or Vermont. Receipt notices would usually have three letter prefixes, to wit:
CSC or WAC for the California Service Center, previously known as the Western Adjudication Center
EAC or VSC – Eastern Adjudication Center (now known as Vermont Service Center)
LIN – Lincoln Service Center (now known as Nebraska Service Center)
SRC or TSC – Southern Regional Center (now known as Texas Service Center)
Upon transmission of the complete file from the lock box, the appropriate service center issues a Notice of Action (Receipt Notice) showing the date of receipt (filing date). The filing date is the applicant’s or beneficiaries’ “priority date.” The Receipt Notice is usually mailed approximately one to two weeks after transmission from the Lock Box station.
If the application or petition is incomplete or does not include the correct payment, a rejection letter is sent to the petitioner. The petitioner/applicant then has to re-file and, upon verification the petition is complete, a new filing date is listed.
Because thousands of applications are received daily, an incomplete petition would mean a delay of two to four weeks which, in turn, could mean additional years of waiting for the visa issuance.
What the receipt number means
An I-130 petition sent to and received in a specific service center, say California in 2011 could be labeled “WAC 11 012, 50960”
The letters “WAC” refers to the Service Center; in this case, California. In some cases, the first set of digits would be “CSC”
The first set of digits represent the fiscal year when the case was received. America’s fiscal year starts on October and ends on September. Hence “11” means the petition was received during the 2011 fiscal year.
The second set of digits (“012”) represents the specific date (computer workday – excluding weekends and holidays) when the petition was received and opened. October 1 is the first working day of each fiscal year – unless it falls on a weekend of holiday. This specific petition was received on the 12th working day of fiscal year 2011.
The third set of five digits (“40960”) is the case number.
When checking the status of your petition online, this receipt number will tell you when it was received, whether it is being processed, returned, rejected, refused or approved. The online link is as follows: https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do
Petitions pending and processing times
As of June 30, 2016, there were 726,691 visa petitions pending for immediate relatives and other family members in the family-preference categories.
Petitions for immediate relatives of US citizens are prioritized since they are not covered by quotas or numerical limits. The Family preference categories have specific yearly quotas as shown below:
First: (F1) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.
Second: Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents: 114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused first preference numbers:
A. (F2A) Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit;
B. (F2B) Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents: 23% of the overall second preference limitation.
Third: (F3) Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.
Fourth: (F4) Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens: 65,000, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences.
Centers and Priorities
In all service centers, the average processing time of petitions filed for immediate relatives of US citizens as well as the spouses and minor children of LPRs is five months except with the EAC or VSC where the petitions being processed were those received on or before January 28, 2016.
The IRs and I-129F column refers to the immediate relatives (IRs) and fiancees of US citizens represented by the I-129F which is the form used for a fiancee petition.
The I-601 refers to applicants requesting for a waiver of inadmissibility for having committed violations of certain immigration and/or visa rules.
The I-212 refers to an Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States after Deportation or Removal. This application is used by a person who was issued a non-immigrant or immigrant visa, allowed or admitted into the US, but was later deported or removed. The other case is a person who was removed (not allowed entry into the US) at a port of entry for having violated certain immigration laws or for having misrepresented material facts during the visa application. An individual not allowed entry would be classified as one who was “excluded” and was expeditiously removed – commonly called “airport-to-airport.”