LAST week, we visited the changing immigration landscape of the United States.
For intending immigrants, the slew of new, proposed immigration and visa regulations are numerous bumps along the permanent residency pathway.
If permanent residency is not visible within the immediate horizon, would any of the non-immigrant categories offer viable options?
Visit and work visas. A Filipino with a valid B-1/B-2 visitor visa may be admitted into the US for six months. However, he or she may not apply to change status from visitor to another non-immigrant category should an opportunity arise such as taking up an academic course or having an employer with a job offer.
A change in status is covered by a 90-day rule provision. Under this revised definition, a tourist visa holder or one in visitor status in the US may not enroll in a school for academic studies, work without authorization or get married to a US citizen undertaking any other activity for which a change of status or adjustment of status would be required, without the benefit of such a change or adjustment.
Applying for change of status would be considered fraud, or willful misrepresentation either during the application for visa or when asked by an immigration officer about the purpose of stay at the port of entry.
Even if a willing and qualified employer files a temporary work visa for the visitor, approval of the change of status would depend on luck (as in the case of the H-1B since selection is by lottery), or by first obtaining a temporary labor certification from the US Department of Labor. The certification is tedious, expensive, not to mention complex and time-sensitive.
Approximately 62 percent of Filipinos working abroad are in the 25 to 39 age range. The Labor Force survey and Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) statistics of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) also show that more than 1.5 million OFWs came from Luzon, the National Capital Region in particular.
The Visayas contributed 383,000 while 411,000 came from Mindanao.
Of these numbers, close to 80 percent are in the elementary occupations, skilled workers in the agriculture, forestry, fishery, service and sales. Professionals, technicians, associate professionals and managers constitute the 20 percent. Expectedly, they have at the very least bachelor degrees and functional English proficiency.
If the latest release from the PSA is any indication, a significant number of the 27 to 29-year-olds are married.
Filipino communities. There were 4 million Filipinos (including the first and succeeding generations of immigrants) in the United States. Canada was a distant second as a Filipino migrant destination: 837,130 Filipinos were reported to be in Canada according to the latest census and the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa.
Australia is third with a Filipino population of close to 300,000.
Across the Atlantic, the Office for National Statistics estimate about 132,000 Filipinos in the United Kingdom. These kababayan form part of the 743,826 OFWs reported by the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2014.
Since the late 1970s, however, the Middle East – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular – has been the default destination of OFWs, mostly skilled, non-degree workers.
That said, where would a Filipino in the 25 to 39 age range, with at least an associate bachelor degree, married and English-proficient, have the best chance of becoming a permanent resident and that will allow to have his or her family with him or her as immigrants?
Permanent residency comes with social services and benefits that those in temporary migrant status do not have, international students and foreign workers among them.
Since 2000, the five countries with permanent migration programs have fine-tuned their immigrant selection system.
Australia, Canada and New Zealand have points-based selection systems based on age, English proficiency, educational qualification and skilled work experience. Having a spouse or partner adds points to the principal applicant, especially if the spouse/partner also has English proficiency, academic qualifications and one to three years minimum work experience.
Australia has the SkillSelect. New Zealand has its Expression of Interest Skilled Migrant Category and Canada enhanced its permanent migrant recruitment (Federal Skilled Worker Program) to Express Entry in January 2015.
The UK’s points-based system is not a direct application for permanent residency (termed the “indefinite leave to remain,” or ILR). An intending immigrant must have at least five years of legal employment to qualify for this ILR status.
While there are more Filipinos with qualified relatives eligible to sponsor them under the family-based categories, the waiting period is long. Way too long.
This month, the US State Department’s Visa Bulletin shows that approved petitions in the various family-based categories will result in up to more-than-a-20-year wait (petition for adult siblings in the F4 category).
And the waiting periods do not count the years that their petitions pending with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (Uscis) remain pending.
An I-130 petition for a relative by a qualified US relative goes through the Uscis filing procedure.
Currently, petitioner must first submit the petition to a specific lockbox facility (LBF) depending on the petitioner’s place of residence. Uscis lockbox facilities are located in Chicago, Illinois; Phoenix, Arizona; and Lewisville, Texas. They are operated by a Department of Treasury-designated financial agent.
The LBF evaluates the petition packet for completion – correct filing fees, the most current petition form and submission of required documents in support of the petition. Once assessed for completeness, the petition file is then forwarded to the specific service center (SC).
There are four SCs, named after the state of location: California, Nebraska, Texas and Vermont. Petitions are then queued up for processing. During this time, the evaluator simply works through the pile. Work is done on the petitions received first. When a petition lacks documentation or does not meet the criteria, the Uscis assessor sends the petitioner a request for further evidence (RFE). That would extend the waiting period for petitions with RFEs.
Most petitions for relatives are processed with the California Service Center.
As of Dec. 14, 2019, the waiting period before a petition may be processed and adjudicated (hopefully with an approval) range from 14 to 131 months.
For F1 petitions, the wait is 49 to 63.5 months. Petitions received at the center dated Oct. 3, 2014 are currently being worked on.
F2B petitions filed on or earlier than June 1, 2009 are being processed; F3 has a May 25, 2010 cut-off date while the F4 category petitions filed on or earlier than March 8, 2009 are undergoing assessment.
Remember, only after approval are these petitions forwarded to the National Visa Center. Then another waiting period begins.
Only then could the beneficiary checks the cut-off dates of the Visa Bulletin every month, hoping the most current announcement would indicate that he or she could finally start processing of his/her immigrant visa application. The date to watch out for is the Visa Bulletin’s date of filing chart.
The other chart — final dates — means that a beneficiary should have completed his/her documentation to be scheduled for the embassy interview.
Instead of waiting for their priority dates to be current (and visas immediately available), the relatives of US citizens with approved visa petitions may explore applying for the points-based migration to Canada, Australia or New Zealand.
For a sense of how a 29-to-39-year-old Filipino with or without an approved visa petition in the US may fare in the selection system of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, here is the possible outcome of his or her application through the SkillSelect, Expression of Interest Express Entry.
Australia. Applicant 25 but less than 33 years old, with proficient English proficiency scores, has a bachelor’s degree, at least three years work experience and married or with a partner that meet the same criteria would get 65 points – the minimum required to be part of the candidate pool.
New Zealand. The same applicant would get 30 points for age; 10 points for experience (three years); 50 points for the educational qualification. English proficiency is required but does not have points assignment. Partner/spouse bachelor degree adds 10 points, bringing the total to 100 the minimum points required for inclusion.
Canada. An applicant (with the same profile above) intending to submit his or her candidate profile through Express Entry must meet the requirements of the three programs, usually the Federal Skilled Worker Program. The FSWP requires an applicant to earn 67 points. Our applicant could get 68 points based on age (33); English proficiency, 24 points, education, 21; for experience, 11 points.
In all three countries, taking up studies increases the chance of selection. Being in the country offers work opportunities and potential job sponsorship. Completion of an academic course and a job offer bumps up the scores towards selection. Or even nomination by a province, state or territory for having completed an industry-desired qualification and gaining experience while studying or in the post graduate work permit stage in Canada.
When to act? Soonest. Why? Because as an applicant gets older, the score for age gets lower. Unless one’s English proficiency scores improve, the chances of selection fade.
Going abroad is not for everyone. If you have career potentials in the country and established connections, as well as family support, there is no place like home. For the others, the clock of the future is ticking.