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a tourist visa to even vis­it him in the U.S. So, that means they spend years living separate lives all because of an outdated and inefficient immigration bureacracy.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.