The Importance of Family

Family has been on my mind lately. This week is the midway point between the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations. My sister just had a birthday. And I prepared for the mad rush of in-laws coming into town over Memorial Day weekend. Despite my secret (and some not-so-secret) grumblings about all the phone calls that had to be made, gifts that had to be bought, and accommodations that had to be prepared, I feel extremely lucky. I’ve been fortunate to know that loved ones in my family are here with me in this country and I can simply hop on a short flight to see them.

Sadly, many South Asian immigrants in the United States do not have the luxury of living in the same country as their spouse, parents, or siblings. South Asians heavily rely upon loved ones in the United States sponsoring their admission into the country. Yet, due to numerical limitations on visas and bureacratic delays, many have to wait years to have their immigration applications approved to be reunited with family members. Here are a few dates and numbers as food for thought:

  • 5.8 million: Number of immigrant applicants waiting for a family visa
  • 211,574: Number of Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani applicants waiting for a family visa – in fact, these three countries rank among the top ten countries with the highest number of applicants on the waiting list
  • 1998: The year a sibling in India of a U.S. citizen must have filed an application to be processed today – that’s eleven years!
Often, even spouses and permanent partners are separated from one another. Take, for instance, the story of Vivek Jayanand, an engineer and green card holder in Silicon Valley. He has to wait almost five years before his wife, Neethu, can get her own green card. Even if he becomes a citizen, which could speed up the sponsorship process, he would still have to wait three years. And it is almost impossible for her to get a tourist visa to even visit him in the U.S. So, that means they spend years living separate lives all because of an outdated and inefficient immigration bureacracy.

Fortunately, pending legislation such as Congressman Honda‘s and Senator Menendez‘s versions of the Reuniting Families Act will alleviate the visa backlog to help those like Vivek and Neethu. As momentum around immigration reform builds, it is important for South Asian community members to weigh in with members of Congress about the creating a just and humane immigration system that keeps families together.