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Green card application wait time has doubled since 1991

In 2018, more than 100,000 people who legally immigrated to the U.S. had been waiting a decade or more to apply for a green card. And it seems this trend is tied to changes in green card quotas going back to the 1990s.

Analysis by the Cato Institute found that, since the current quotas went into effect in 1991, green card wait times have doubled. Before the 1991 change, those applying for family-based or employment-based green cards waited an average of 2 years and ten months to apply. In 2018, the average time spent waiting to apply was 5 years and 8 months.

Wait times vary based on relationship and country of origin

Green card quotas in the U.S include “per-country limits.” No more than 7% of the total number of available visas can go to people from a single country. This often means two people coming to the U.S. under the same circumstances might have vastly different wait times. Someone coming from a country with a large population, like Mexico or the Philippines, could wait ten years or more – while someone from a smaller country like the Netherlands might only wait a year.

Wait times also depend on the family relationship someone’s visa depends on. Spouses and children under 21 typically do not wait as long as brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.

The State Department’s Visa Bulletin

Every month, the State Department releases its “Visa Bulletin,” which outlines who can now apply for a green card based on the date they entered the line. In this month’s Visa Bulletin, we can see that the wait time for family-sponsored visas is currently anywhere between seven and twenty years. Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens from Mexico who entered the line in 1997 are just now able to apply.

To learn more about how green card quotas might affect your path to legal residency in the U.S., talk to an experienced immigration attorney. 

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