THE iconic Greyhound bus company in the United States had this long-running slogan - "Leave the driving to us." It was coined in 1956.

The legendary bus company, founded in 1914, 10 years before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1914 established the national origins quota system, later reinforced by the Immigration Act of 1952.

No, Rosa Parks did not sit on the front seat of a Greyhound Bus on the day the US Supreme Court ban on segregation of the city's buses took effect.

But Greyhound had been the transportation vehicle of choice of Filipino migrants in California moving to Seattle in Washington state, then to Alaska, following the crop and crab seasons or where bus fare was not available, then hitch a ride on the hobo train.

I, for one, took the Greyhound bus from Sacramento to Los Angeles in 1981, pawning my watch for $60 to get to the freeway city where a classmate from the Philippine College of Commerce offered temporary accommodation and a place to stay while looking for work.

Getting a job as a fresh-from-the plane is not easy. Employers in Sacramento were asking for local experience. It didn't matter that I had a degree in advertising and had an AB in Political Science. They needed local references. And I did not have any.

So, after doing odd jobs, including operating a mobile cement mixer doing garden molds in the sun, I left Old Sac for a new migrant destination.

For the migrants that came - after the 1965 Immigration Act abolished the earlier quota system and established a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families and attracting skilled labor to the United States - Greyhound was the family bus.

The buses run on the middle lane but take the slow lane when exiting the freeway - on the right side.

For migrants in the visa expressway, the F3 and F4 categories are the slowest lanes. The waiting period for these preference categories average 12 to 20 years, respectively.

How did Covid affect the changing of lanes in the visa expressway where family preference buses run?

The slow lanes started with the passage of the 1990 Immigration Act. Under the new and still current law, family based immigration was given priority and visa allocation.

For the first three fiscal years (starting October 1 of the current year and ends September 30 of the following year), 465,000 visas were reserved for family based immigration, supplemented by an additional 55,000 immigrant visas for the spouses and minor children of aliens legalized under the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

Beginning in fiscal year 1995, 480,000 family based visas are available per year. The quota does not apply to the immediate relatives of US citizens (spouses, minor children and parents). They compete with the members in the family preference categories for the 465,000 total until only 226,000 are left.

When the overall family sponsored categories hit this number, the immediate relatives of US citizens are no longer subject to quota. Once a petition is approved, visas are immediately available. In contrast, the beneficiary of an approved petition in the F3 or F4 category would have to wait for 12 to 22 years to have immigrant visas available.

In 1999, the United States admitted a total of 644,787. Of this number, 30,943 were from the Philippines. In 2008, the number increased to 1,107,126. Since then, America has admitted an average of a million immigrants, mostly of family sponsored immigrants.

This month in 2008, a US citizen filing a petition for a sibling would have to wait for 22 years before the brother or sister could get an interview scheduled at the US Embassy in Manila. The cut-off date for the F4 category (adult sister, brother of US citizens) was March 8, 1986.

The F3 category (married sons, daughters of US citizens) was in the next slowest lane. A US citizen filing a petition for a married son or daughter would have to wait for approximately 27 years before he or she would be interviewed by a consul in Manila. The F3 cut-off date was April 1, 1991.

An unmarried beneficiary in the fast F2A lane would be forced to move to the slower F3 lane if he or she gets married. Conversely, an F3 applicant whose marriage gets terminated would be able to move from the slow to the faster F1 (unmarried son/daughter of a US citizen.



Covid-19 increased backlog

A year after ex-president Donald Trump was elected, the United States admitted 1,127,167 legal immigrants, 49,147 of whom were from the Philippines.

The spouses, minor children and parents of US citizens took 516,508 visas: the family sponsored categories got 232,238.

The F3 category had 23,260; the F4 with 69,259.

These totals are from worldwide immigrant visa issuance at consular posts including the US Embassy in Manila.

When the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, Covid-19 became the weapon of choice of then-President Trump who campaigned to stop immigration - at the borders and ports of entry.

Mr. Trump issued two proclamations banning immigrants from entering the United States even if immigrant visas are already available to them.

On April 22, 2020, Mr. Trump signed Proclamation 10014 temporarily suspending the entry of certain immigrants into the United States in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Two months after (June 22, 2020), then-President Trump signed a proclamation continuing Proclamation 10014 issued on April 22, 2020 (effective immediately) and suspending the entry of certain nonimmigrants (effective June 24, 2020, at 12:01 a.m. (ET)).

In a March 9, 2021 press briefing at the State Department, Ms. Julie Stufft, acting deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, announced that "in January 2020, there were about 75,000 immigrant visa cases pending at the National Visa Center (NVC) ready for interviews. In February 2021, there were 473,000. The number does not include cases already at embassies and consulates that have not yet been interviewed or applicants who are still gathering the needed documents before they can interview or petitions awaiting US Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, approval."

In April, the first time the State Department issued its backlog report, the number of immigrant visa (IV) applicants whose cases are documentarily complete at the NVC and ready for interview as of March 31 was 494,289.

Due to staffing shortage and quarantine protocols, the NVC was able to schedule only 18,979 immigrant visa applicants. The number of eligible IV applicants still pending the scheduling of an interview after April 2021 appointment scheduling was completed remained at 475,310.

While the number of cases processed by NVC increased, the total number of immigrant visa applicants still waiting to be scheduled for their consular post interviews continued to rise.

It did not help that the delivery of vaccines was twice delayed, prompting an apology from vaccine czar Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr.

However, in the succeeding days, Galvez announced that the United States is sending over 3 million Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceuticals) vaccine doses to the Philippines through the Covax global vaccine sharing facility.

During the week, over 1 million AstraZeneca vaccines donated by Japan arrived in the Philippines, eclipsing the donation of China - initial 600,000 and a promise to deliver 400,000 more.

On Friday last week, the Department of Health (DoH) provided the Covid-19 update: 5,881 new cases and 70 new deaths.

On July 9, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Philippines was 1,461,445 with 25,720 deaths. On the bright side, 1,383,833 have recovered.

The US Embassy's visa operations based its decision to resume services or remain nonoperational on the DoH and official Philippine government announcements.

For the period July 1 to 31, 2021, the National Capital Region (where the US Embassy in Manila is located), Rizal and Bulacan remained on general community quarantine.

Consequently, the US Embassy visa operations (routine visa services) remain suspended and operate on a limited capacity given the few numbers of consular officers and staff able to come to work to interview visa applicants.

The embassy announcement reiterates that "as conditions surrounding the Covid-19 situation improve, the embassy will add additional services, culminating eventually in a complete resumption of routine visa services."

However, the "embassy cannot predict when the resumption of full visa services or a specific category of visa classes will occur."

A ray of good news comes on the revised list of visa applicants to be scheduled for interview. Previously, beneficiaries in the family preference categories were not being scheduled for appointments. Now, they are in Tier Four.

The first tier, previously allocated to applicants who were temporarily refused under Section 2219g of the Immigration and Nationality Act, now has been revised.

Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age) and certain special immigrant visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the US government).

Tier Two: Immediate relative visas, fiancé (ée) visas and returning resident visas.

Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE special immigrant visas for certain employees of the US government abroad.

Tier Four: All other immigrant visas including employment preference and diversity visas.

For nonimmigrant visa applicants (tourists, students, exchange visitors, working visa and others), only a select few with "urgent" reasons are given priority for interview appointments.

Forced to move from the fast to the slow lane?

Try breathing slowly, too, to relieve stress.