by Blake P. Somers, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist
The idea of an “immediately available immigrant visa number” is a very important concept to immigration law. Basically, family-based immigration into the United States is limited by a number each year; i.e., there are only certain numbers of certain types of relatives that the United States will allow to become permanent residents. However, the number of petitions that are approved often times (and almost always) exceeds the number of visas that the government is able to issue. This is where people often talk about their relative “waiting in line” to come into the United States.
A non-specific, but convenient, way to check processing times on certain sorts of cases is to look at the Visa Bulletin published each month by the Department of State. For instance, the December 2011 edition of the Visa Bulletin showed that the priority date for spouses of permanent residents is in April of 2009, meaning the current wait time is just under 3 years. However, please note that some categories have even more approved petitions and the wait time can become excruciating long. For example, brothers and sisters of United States citizens of the Philippines currently have a priority date in 1988, meaning that people are waiting over 20 years for these visas to become current. Please see http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5630.html.