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Wait times for green cards for immediate family at record highs

Both young people and immigrant advocacy groups alike cheered when President Obama announced the launch of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program back in 2012. For those unfamiliar with this program, it essentially enables those young people who satisfy certain conditions to live and work in the United States for two years, subject to renewal, and then perhaps be eligible for work authorization.

Thus far, the DACA program has enjoyed great success as over 521,000 young people had received deferrals by early February, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services processing over 2,000 applications a day.

However, this great success has not come without a cost, as many citizens or permanent residents have seen the wait times for securing a permanent resident visa -- or green card -- for their immediate family members (spouses, children, parents, etc.) triple.

According to sources, USCIS was given only two months to make the necessary arrangements for the launch of the DACA program back in 2012, having to devote considerable manpower and spread already limited resources to covering the deluge of applications.

While these efforts proved successful, the area of green card applications suddenly saw major delays in processing times, with some families now being separated for over a year and the application backlog growing to over 500,000.

"U.S. citizens petitioning for green cards for immediate relatives are a high, if not the highest, priority in the way Congress set up the immigration system," said a spokesperson with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "This is a problem that needs to be fixed quickly."

Family members who are citizens or permanent residents are able to sponsor their immediate family members for a green card, a process that has been recognized as especially efficient since there are no annual limits on the number of green cards issued.

In general, the family member submits a petition to USCIS, which will grant its initial approval. From there, the visa petition passes through both the State Department and foreign consulates. While this may seem like a rather lengthy process, it has historically taken five months of less.

The USCIS has indicated that it is working hard to reduce the wait times for the processing of green cards back down to five months, but that this likely won't occur before the summer of 2014.

In the meantime, this news is likely of little consolation to families that have been apart for over a year, having to put their plans for school, housing and life on hold.

Source: The New York Times, "Program benefiting some immigrants extends visa wait for others," Julia Preston, Feb. 8, 2014

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