The number one thing that I tell my clients who come to me with immigration matters is this: Have patience. It is the first rule of handling an immigration matter.
I say this because not a lot of people know just how long the process can be to get a visa or to get a hearing time. It’s common for immigration matters to take a minimum of a year to resolve, whether it’s waiting to hear back about an application or to have your hearing date set to get out of detention. And those are ideal scenarios! for some people, they’ve been waiting 20 years for a green card. Why is this? What has caused such a backlog of immigration work?
I think there are three reasons: Immigration is a massive segment of the US Government, the entities that make it up have been underfunded for years, and congress has limited the number of people that can be admitted each year.
Immigration is a truly massive entity in the Federal bureaucracy. The three big organizations, USCIS, USICE, and USCBP have a combined budget of $12 Billion dollars and employ more than 96,000 people. They are in charge of 57 immigration courts, monitor 8,000 miles of our borders, and naturalized more than 1.4 million people in the last two years alone. Entities this large have many layers of management and require more time to accomplish tasks than smaller entities. Added on to this is the fact that these are also public organizations, whose oversight by Congress adds another layer of decision making that most private entities don’t have to deal with. And Congress doesn’t just set the rules for these entities. They also set the budget.
The various entities that make up Immigration have been chronically underfunded by Congress for years. As a part of the federal government, USCIS, USICE, and USCBP have had to make the same budget cuts that other federal organizations have had to as well. All part of the Sequester of 2011, immigration has had to trim itself down at a time when it is busier than ever. Unfortunately for Immigration, however, is that it does not have nearly as powerful of defenders in Congress as other segments of the federal government do, such as Defense and Social Security. So when those departments are given special treatment (and thus get some relief from budget cuts), immigration isn’t so lucky.
Ultimately, despite the size of immigration and its funding needs, the most important factor is that more people are applying for visas than there are spots for them. The United States is still on a quota system. While we have moved away from nationality quotas, what we do have are quotas based on one’s relationships and skills. Each individual’s relationship with the United States will affect how soon they are admitted. Having a relationship to a US citizen or permanent resident can help you get into the US faster, but that only puts you further up in line and is not a guarantee of immediate service. The same is true for immigrants with college education or specialized knowledge. (Though keep in mind that there are many more immigrants admitted through family visas than by work visas: 167,500 (not including spouses) vs. 145,000.) Outside of few narrower categories, anyone left who doesn’t fit into one of those categories is left to attempt to get a Visa through an actual lottery program the US government has set up. These applicants will need a decent amount of luck though. The last time it was drawn, 15 million people applied for only 50,000 spots.
So in the end, one needs to be very patient when it comes to working with the US Immigration system. Hiring an attorney to help you navigate this process can speed it up. They can help you make sure you’re using the right visa and are in the correct category. They can help catch errors that otherwise might delay your application by years or even force you to start the process over. If you are in the market for one, try to find one who you feel you can work with for a long while. Someone who will answer your calls and keep you informed of the status of your case. In other words, someone who you can have a positive and productive relationship with. You’ll likely be working with them for years to come.