Backlogs hurt Asian immigrants

Asian immigrant holds U.S. flag before taking oath as citizen.

Asian immigrant holds U.S. flag before taking oath as citizen.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS  – While the focus of the national conversation on immigration tends to be on Latinos, Asians face the toughest challenges on both the legal and undocumented sides of the issue.

Community leaders say the slow pace of immigration reform hurt Asians and Asian-Americans perhaps more than any other community.

Of the five countries with the longest backlogs for visas, four are in Asian (eight in the top 10), and on the undocumented side, two million of the estimated 11 million “illegals” are of Asian descent.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders bring a unique perspective to this discussion, and without our input, the next stage in this great American experiment will be incomplete,” said Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in a recent statement.

In a report released Wednesday, Feb. 13, the National Asian-American Survey said Asian-Americans have the highest proportion of foreign-born United States residents of any group — about 3 in 4 Asian-American adults were born outside the country.

Asia now accounts for the largest share of immigration to the U.S. In addition, about 10 percent of 11 million unauthorized immigrants are Asian.

In addition to Mexico, the top five countries with the longest backlogs in family-based and employment-based visa applications are the Philippines (462,145), India (332,846), Vietnam (267,281) and Mainland China.

Bangladesh is seventh (161,896) and Pakistan eighth (115,903), according to the National Visa Center, as of Nov. 2012.

If you’re trying to get a visa to legally enter the United States from an Asian country, you could be waiting for a very long time.

The National Public Radio reported that federal government places an annual cap on the total number of people who can be granted visas from any given country. Most people who qualify for visas are sponsored by family members or by employers, and the wait times for a visa approval can vary dramatically.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist at the University of California, Riverside, who worked on the survey, said that the approval time for a family-sponsored visa application can be as little as a few months for a spouse or a child but can sometimes last up to 20 years for a sponsor’s sibling.

“If you’re looking at a backlog of 4.3 million people [waiting on family visas], it will take a while to get through the backlog,” Ramakrishnan told NPR.

The current annual cap for all family visas is 226,000.

The National Asian-american Survey said about 54 percent of Asian-Americans feel backlogs are a “significant issue” for their families, with about 4 in 10 calling it a “fairly serious” or “very serious” problem. Indians, Hmong, Vietnamese and Filipinos expressed the most concern about the backlogs.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama said, “If you are a citizen, you shouldn’t have to wait years before your family is able to join you in America.”

Among other changes to the current system, his plan calls for raising the annual country caps for family-sponsored visas.

There has been a shift in attitude among Asian-Americans on immigration. In 2008, just 32 percent of Asian-Americans supported a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. That number jumped to 58 percent by October of last year.

Ramakrishnan said that’s attributable to outreach by advocacy groups. “Their voter education efforts have made a difference,” he said.

“It’s part of the general leftward shift among Asian-Americans,” he said. Just two decades ago, he says, Asian-Americans voted solidly for Republicans in national elections. But by the end of the Clinton administration, that electoral advantage had totally shifted.

In November, 73 percent of Asian-American voted for President Obama.

“To the extent that they’re paying attention to the immigration debate, they’re more likely to see Republicans as shrill and out of touch,” Ramakrishnan said.

Follow Bert Eljera @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at

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