If you are a foreigner sponsored by a family, or if you are an employment-based green-card holder in a category of the applicant that faces annual numerical limits on visas, you might face a long wait. 

How long you will wait for it depends on what type of visa you have applied for and on availability and demand in that category. Moreover, the per-country limits on visas might affect the waiting period. This can make the wait long for people from countries like China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines.

What Are the Different U.S. Immigrant Visa Preference Categories?

The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) utilize a preference system to administrate applicants’ visas. This ensures priorities are given to more skilled and highly educated persons and closer family members. There are two major immigrant visa preference categories: family-based and employment-based. There are four preferences under the family-based category and five under the employment-based category.

Family Visa Preferences

There are four preferences in the family-based visa category; the first preference is unmarried adult children. This includes biological and adopted children of U.S. citizens above the age of 21. The second preference covers spouses of permanent residents and their children; there is no age limit. The third preference covers married children of U.S. citizens with their spouses and children at minor ages.

The last preference, the fourth, covers brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens with their spouses and minor children. This preference category does not cover relatives such as cousins, uncles, aunts, or grandparents.

Employment Visa Preferences

There are five preferences under this category, from EB-1 to EB-5. The EB-1 (first) preference category covers priority workers such as foreign nationals with exceptional skills and abilities. It also covers certain multinational managers and executives and outstanding researchers and professors. The EB-2 covers persons with extraordinary abilities or members of professions with advanced degrees.

The EB-3 covers qualified workers and professionals, while the EB-3 covers special immigrants and aliens in religious vocations. The last preference category, the EB-5, is for immigrant investors who will potentially create U.S. employment opportunities for U.S. workers.

How Are U.S. Immigrant Visas Given Out Yearly?

The USCIS and U.S. immigration law grants immigrant visas based on the principle of reunifying families and admitting skilled immigrants with economic value. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the governing body of law for U.S. immigration policy. It allows the system to give up to 675,000 immigrant visas annually across different visa categories, including family- and employment-based visas. Besides these, the Act does not limit the annual admission of spouses, parents, and minor-aged children of U.S. citizens.

Family Visa Allotments for U.S. Permanent Residence

Unlimited visas are available annually for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens; these include their spouses, minor-aged children, and parents. For the preference category, however, there are limited visas available. In both cases, applicants must meet set eligibility criteria, and the petitioners must meet certain financial and age requirements.

To balance the number of family-based immigrants entering the U.S. annually, Congress set several visas in the preference categories. For U.S. citizens, 24,000 visas are issued for their married adult children, 24,000 for their unmarried adult children, and 65,000 for their siblings. For permanent residents, 87,900 visas are issued for their spouses and minor children, and 26,300 visas for their unmarried adult children.

Employment Visa Allotments for U.S. Permanent Residence

Each preference category (EB-1 to EB-5) in the employment-based visa category has its allotted annual numerical limit. For EB-1, 40,040 visas are issued at the most, 40,040 for EB-1, and 40,040 for EB-3. In EB-3, there is an allocation for “other” workers for permanent unskilled labor: 5,000. Meanwhile, 9,940 visas are allotted for those in the EB-4 category and 9,940 for EB-5.

In What Ways Can You Know Your Priority Date for an Immigrant Visa?

The numerical limit creates a waitlist for family preference immigrant visas, and the applicant’s priority date accompanies their “place in line.” The filing date of your Form I-130 becomes your priority date; USCIS assigns a priority date when it accepts the form. Review the Notice of Action, Form I-797, sent when your I-130 was approved to locate your priority date. You will find your priority date in the top part of the document.

Finding Your Place on the Waiting List 

The State Department publishes a Visa Bulletin monthly. It is a source of relevant information on visa waiting periods. 

On that website, you can find the chart for “Family-Sponsored Preferences” and two more for “Employment-Based Preferences.” These charts will tell you when you can apply for a visa. Moreover, you can find out when the visa can be given to you. Here are some tips on how to look at these charts: 

  1. First, locate your preference category in the column on the left. 
  2. On the top, locate your country. Countries mentioned above (India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines) often have specified columns because of the large number of applicants, it means that usually, they wait longer. 
  3. You will also have the cutoff date — the key time you will compare with your priority date to map your progress. 

Every prospective immigrant has his or her priority date. The priority date is when USCIS first received the I-130 or when the Department of Labor received the labor certification request by your employer petitioner. Your priority date will be on your paperwork from one of these agencies. 

The earlier your priority date will mean you are ahead of others, but the current cutoff date will not tell you how long you will wait before your visa or green card is available. But, the Visa Bulletin website provides information on how long previous applicants are waiting for visas so that you can check the approximate waiting time. 

Sometimes the government feds up with a large number of visa applications. This is usually a reason why the cutoff dates are prolonged for months. 

Don’t get confused with a box containing the letter C or U instead of a date. The letter C stands for “current,” meaning there are several visas in that category, and no one has to wait. On the other side, the letter U stands for “unavailable,” indicating the opposite – the visas have already been distributed. In other words, you have to wait for the next deadline. 

What If You Have Changed the Address?

If you, your family member, or your employer petitioned to change addresses, you must contact the National Visa Center (NVC). This contact point keeps your case file until your priority date is close to being current. You can notify them online using the Public Inquiry Form. 

Your Priority Date Is Current- What Now? 

When you finally see a later date or the letter “C” on the “Dates for Filing” on the Visa Bulletin website, you will know that your priority date has become current. 

You don’t have to wait for the government to call you after you notice this. Instead, you can contact the NVC and ask for the appropriate instructions. 

Nevertheless, if you are now in the United States and eligible to apply for your green card visa that requires being either in lawful immigration status or is an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you shall not wait for an invitation. Alternatively, you can submit your adjustment of status to USCIS. You can only do this if USCIS confirms that you could use the Visa Bulletin filing date. This information The Visa Bulletin page will provide. 

If you or the person who was your petitioner didn’t tell USCIS on the I-130 form that you would be adjusting your status, then you can contact the NVC and tell it you’re in the U.S. now so that it can forward your file to USCIS. 

When you file your application, the State Department will not be able to give you an immigrant visa until your priority date is in the “Application Final Action Dates” chart. 

When No One Noticed Your Current Priority Date 

Maybe you forget to check the Visa Bulletin, or maybe the NVC has tried to notify you, but you missed providing the new address, or the NVC might have failed to keep track. This can cause a problem in delay or even ruin your migratory plans. 

Still, after your priority date becomes current in the “Application Final Action Dates” chart, you will have one year to pursue your visa or green card. If you miss this as well, the government will perceive you have quit, and the next person in the line will get your visa number to the next. 

Keep track of your priority date, and take steps to pursue your application once it becomes current.

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs]

1# What should you do when your priority date is stuck for a while?

Sometimes, priority dates get stuck because the US government is backed up with applications. If yours is stuck, don’t be surprised; it means the USCIS is trying to deal with the backlog.

2# What does a “C” on the visa bulletin chart mean?

Sometimes, the visa bulletin shows a “C” rather than a date on a preference category. “C” means “current,” meaning no applicant in that category has to wait for a priority date. 

3# What does a “U” on the visa bulletin chart mean?

No visas are available if the visa bulletin chart shows a “U” instead of a date. “U” means “unavailable,” meaning all the visas in that category have been used up for that fiscal year. For instance, if you see a “U” in your category box, you know you have to wait until the new fiscal year starts.

4# How long before the priority date becomes current?

How long you wait for your priority date to become current depends on what category you are being sponsored in. It also depends on the demand for visas in that category. It is hard to know how long until the “U” changes to a “C.”

5# What should I do when my priority date is current?

When your priority date becomes current, it is time to progress with getting your immigrant visa or green card. The US government should contact you with the next steps; if you don’t hear from them, contact the NVC.

6# Why is USCIS taking so long to process 2022?

Several factors affect the time the USCIS takes to process visas, including staffing levels, workload allocations, and the number of applications, petitions, or requests. The backlog of the previous fiscal year must also be cleared before a new one can start.

7# Does USCIS process based on priority date?

The USCIS allegedly processes visas based on priority dates; your priority date sets your place in line. However, your priority date does not necessarily indicate when you will have your visa interview. It simply gives you an idea of when the US government will start working on your case.

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