It would be more accurate to describe the waiting list for family-sponsored immigrants as 14 different queues moving at different speeds.
Currently, there is only one queue for the spouses and minor children of permanent residents (“F2A” visas), no matter where in the world they were born.
But all of the other green card categories have two or three extra queues, because of country-based caps. (For decades, no single country of origin has been allowed to account for more than 7% of all family-preference and employer-preference green cards combined.)
This means, for example, that Indian, Mexican, and Filipino siblings of U.S. citizens each wait in their own separate queue, while siblings from all other countries wait in another (faster) queue.
Here is a view of the 14 queues based on how many people are waiting in each of them and how many just got their green cards last year:
Each month, the State Department publishes a bulletin that alerts those waiting in each of these lines when they have made it to the front and can finally finish the green card process. Based on these bulletins, we know for certain that many people just arriving at the front of the line have been waiting for more than two decades.
But make no mistake: People just entering the line today have a much longer wait in store. Remember, there are nearly 4 million people already waiting in one of the 14 lines, and only 226,000 green cards available each year. Worse still, only a few thousand of those green cards are available annually in the lines for those born in India, Mexico, or the Philippines. So wait times typically keep rising.
The chart above doesn’t even capture the full extent of the problem, because it’s not big enough to show what will happen to someone who enters the waiting line today.
Boundless estimates that under current policy, the children of many U.S. citizens are joining a green card waiting list that’s up to 93 years long. For the siblings of many U.S. citizens, the waiting list is more than 130 years long.
In other words, unless current policy changes, many close relatives of U.S. citizens are certain to die before they can obtain their green cards and live together in the United States.
Learn more in our 2019 family-based immigration report.