One of the most frustrating aspects of immigration is how long it takes to get approved. This is particularly so in spousal sponsorship cases. For example, let’s say an American marries a Canadian. Where do they stand in terms of processing times for their cases?
In the United States, the processing times published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service look quite reasonable to the untrained eye. Once you check under the hood, however, things appear differently.
Delays, Delays, Delays
For example, an I-130 petition by a U.S. citizen (USC) to sponsor their foreign spouse takes about five months. Might sound fair. But that is not the end of the journey. For foreign spouses inside the U.S., once the petition is approved, that foreign spouse has to adjust their current visitor, worker or student status to permanent residency. That part of the application, the adjustment, currently takes about five months, too. In other words, on average, the whole process is going to take you about a year.
Not great, but at least your spouse is with you throughout that time and if you file an application for a work permit for them while you are waiting, they can be working in about eight months. Hopefully you will have an income and a lifestyle that won’t make this eight month lull in their paychecks a hardship.
Once the sponsored spouse has the work permit, the rest of the application process is just a matter of waiting it out. However, that is not the case with foreign spouses outside the United States.
Foreign Spouses Applying Outside The U.S.
For foreign spouses outside the U.S., the post-I-130 petition process begins with the National Visa Center (NVC), the quarterback of the U.S. Consular system. It is the job of the NVC to collect all of the paperwork needed to process an application overseas and then to hand it off to a U.S. Consulate for adjudication and approval. This is where things get bogged down.
According to a recent report, the NVC processes 2.6 million cases per year and out of those, about 100,000 are spousal cases. From the numbers provided in this report, one can calculate that they deal with over 20,000 pieces of mail every day. That’s a lot of mail.
Anyone who has dealt with the NVC lately knows that they are severely backlogged. They cannot even look at a piece of urgent mail until it has been in their office for around 2 months. In one case I had, we struggled to get the NVC to expedite an application for a foreign spouse who was dying from cancer so she could join her U.S. citizen sponsor. Urgent e-mails were sent and phone calls were made and still it took four months for the matter to be approved.
My experience is that normal cases can expect at least a four to six month delay at the NVC before the file moves to a U.S. Consular post for an interview and final processing. In other words, foreign-based spouses are very likely to wait at least a year before they are approved for immigration to the United States. That’s a long time to be away from your spouse.
Any way you slice it, U.S. processing times for sponsored spouses is taking too long. To draw an analogy showing what government can do when they want to, take the example of the Desert Storm war. It took former President H Bush (senior) just 42 days to mobilize millions of troops, thousands of vehicles and dozens of countries to fight and win Desert Storm. If President Bush could do that in 42 days, why can’t the USCIS process a spousal case in less than one year?
Is Canada Any Better?
The short answer is no, it’s even worse. If you think 10 to 12 months is a long time to wait from your spouse to be approved, try waiting two years, as an internal spousal sponsorship case in Canada will take 25 months to process.
Recently, the Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration announced a new program to enable a foreign spouses awaiting approval inside Canada to apply for a work permit. According to the announcement, processing of the work permits should take about four months. Yet there are complications related to this process for many spouses, to the point where some of them can’t work for a year and a half.
Work permits aside, if you look at “normal” processing times for foreign spouses just to come to Canada, the processing time is easily going to be a year and in some cases such as London, Los Angeles, Mexico or Pakistan up to three years. Can you imagine waiting three years for your spouse to join you in Canada? Clearly this needs to be improved.
Speed It Up
Both countries could do much better in speeding up the spousal sponsorship process. If an applicant provides a marriage certificate from a credible source, there is no reason why that foreign spouse should be delayed in entering either the U.S. or Canada. Such a spouse should be approved quickly – certainly no longer than necessary to do a police check and medical clearance. Later, according to rules already in place in both countries dealing with recently married couples, they should have to satisfy immigration officials that they have lived together in a genuine marriage for at least two years. This would then remove any conditions on their permanent status. If the couple flunks this test and the marriage proves to be bogus, then the foreign spouse would be deported.
The current system of delays does nothing to help married couples or the country they wish to live in. Get these applications approved, get people working and paying taxes, and let people get on with their lives.