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Cut Visa Wait Times, Cut Illegal Immigration?

Advocates of comprehensive immigration reform argue it could reduce the flow of illegal immigration. How? One suggestion is to reform the legal immigration system, which makes would-be immigrants wait years — some more than 19 years — for visas to enter the U.S., driving some to enter illegally. To give a taste of how long this process takes, the Multi-American blog is posting wait times each month for people newly eligible to receive visas.

The visa system favors immediate family members, meaning children under the age of 21, spouses and parents. The longest wait times, then, are for those who want to come to the U.S. to join adult siblings or older parents, particularly from countries like Mexico with high volumes of visa applicants.

Multi-American has a run down of the longest wait times from the State Department’s visa bulletin. (Any applications filed after the listed priority date are not yet being considered.) This month’s worst waits are for:

  • Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 19 years (priority date: January 1, 1991)
  • Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, a wait of more than 18 years (priority date: March 1, 1992)
  • Unmarried adult (21 and over) sons and daughters of U.S. legal permanent residents from Mexico, a wait of more than 18 years (priority date June 15, 1992)
  • Unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico, a wait of almost 18 years (priority date: December 1, 1992)

The cruelty of separating people from their families has been used as an argument for changing the visa system, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said family re-unification would continue to be a priority in comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

But some observers think reform should go in the other direction: cutting down on family-based visas in favor of more employment-based visas. The U.S. sets aside only 15 percent of its visas each year for employment-based visas, whereas Canada gives out 58 percent of visas for economy-related reasons. Some experts and business leaders argue the U.S. should focus on highly-skilled immigrants instead of family members: meaning those wait times might not go down even with comprehensive immigration reform.

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