Legal immigrants to U.S. face endless wait
With its backlogs and bureaucracy, the immigration system is punishing for those who play by the rules.
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It's this backlog that delayed the early stages of Potia's green card.Skip to next paragraph
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By contrast, those sponsored by a family member – either a permanent resident or a US citizen – undergo a relatively simpler process. They must prove the familial relationship and their sponsor must show they can support the applicant with an income at 125 percent of the federal poverty line. A family of four, for instance, must earn at least $26,500 a year
Family-sponsored applications are also subject to a quota system, except for immediate relatives of US citizens – parents, children, or spouses.
Again, demand from certain countries including India, China, and Mexico far exceeds availability, and the process can take years.
An estimated 4 million people outside the US are waiting for visas to become available, says Saucier.
He attributes the delays to inefficiency in its processing systems. The agency started a backlog elimination program in 2003, he says, after it split off from the Department of Justice and shed border patrol and other enforcement duties. By the end of 2006, Saucier claims, much of the backlog had been eliminated and processing times for "high preference" applications and those not subject to quotas had improved measurably.
Extended post-9/11 FBI security checks have delayed some green card applications – about 1 percent, or nearly 4,000 each year – by a year or more due, says Saucier, to the FBI's inefficient, paper-based systems, which don't jibe with his department's electronic systems.
It's not over till it's over
In the final stage of the process, applicants are interviewed by immigration officials. Those sponsored by a spouse often have the most challenging interviews. Because marriage-based green-card applications have the highest rate of fraud, couples must prove they married in "good faith," with documentation such as jointly held leases and mortgages, bank accounts, and insurance. Officials question couples closely.
"The agent was asking my wife questions, doubting her motives for the wedding, and I don't think she took that well," says Gustavo Vicentini, a Boston-based consultant from Brazil who was sponsored by his wife, Allison, a US citizen by birth. But, he adds, "They have to be careful. They are going to start from the presumption that we are here with bad intentions."
For the Fertittas, there is a happy ending. At their final court hearing on Feb. 15, the judge approved Mrs. Fertitta's green card, ruling that the shoplifting offense was too minor a reason to keep a couple apart. "It's a weight off," says Fertitta. "Now we can plan trips, we can go back to Malaysia and get to see where she grew up."
Potia, however, is still not sure how much longer she will have to wait. "It all depends on ... where you're at in the system," she said. "You just don't know."