The United States Congress established a very complicated system for issuing immigrant visas. Each month the Department of State in Washington, DC prints a visa bulletin, which lists the availability of visas for every country for that particular month. Only a limited number of immigrant visas are generally issued each year. This limitation is called the “quota” and is based on an alien’s country of birth.
For example, an individual born in India is eligible for one of the visas allocated to that country. If that same Indian citizen has become a citizen of another country, for example Canada, he or she is still subject to the Indian quota. This is because our quota system is based on the alien’s country of birth, not the country of citizenship.
The country quota under which an applicant must apply for an immigrant visa is commonly referred to as the alien’s “chargeability”. There are four exceptions to chargeability by place of birth. These exceptions are known as “cross-chargeability”.
- If the alien is married to another alien who is a citizen of a different country, the couple can apply under the more favorable quota. For example, if a woman born in the Philippines is married to a man born in Canada, the application for permanent residence can be made under either the Philippine or Canadian quota.
- If the alien was accidentally born in a different country from the place of birth of his or her parents, and the parents were not firmly settled in the country where the child was born, the alien can be charged to the place of birth of either parent. For example, a Venezuelan couple on vacation in Mexico gives birth to a baby. Subsequently, the family immigrates to the U.S. The baby will be charged to the Venezuelan rather than the Mexican quota.
If the parents never immigrated to the U.S., but this child later immigrated as an adult, he or she could still be charged to the Venezuelan quota, as long as there was proof that the child’s place of birth was, indeed, an accident.
- Minor children can be charged to either parent’s place of birth. For example, a Canadian executive of an international company is sent to work in Taiwan for two years. His British born wife accompanies him. During the couple’s stay in Taiwan, the wife gives birth to a child. At the end of the two years, the family is transferred to the U.S. in L-1 status. They subsequently apply for permanent residence. The Taiwan born child could be charged either to the Canadian or British quota.
- Former U.S. citizens can be charged to their country of last residence or country of citizenship.
Why are these cross-chargeability categories important? Many countries have more than their maximum allowable number of citizens applying for permanent residence in the U.S. each year. This results in long delays in obtaining green cards. When an applicant benefits from cross-chargeability, the processing time can be significantly shortened.