The visa bulletin of the US State Department shows backlogs in both the family and the employment-based categories. Most immigrant visas to the US are numerically limited both by preference category and by country of chargeability (which is, in most cases, one’s country of birth). Most immigrants are sponsored either by U.S. citizen or permanent resident relatives or, alternately, through their employment or investment in the United States.
If you are unfamiliar with the Visa Bulletin, read our explanation of the those currently applying.
Since DOS’s Charlie Oppenheim sets the “Dates for Filing” based on where he expects the final action dates will be in the next 8 to 12 months, these charts are also helpful in understanding how far the final action dates are likely to advance in the near term. Understanding these charts can help immigrants and their attorneys plan accordingly.
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Check-in with DOS’s Charlie Oppenheim
In the February 2019 Visa Bulletin, Charlie provides his predictions for monthly forward movement for various categories. These predictions are based on current demand trends and are reliable through May 2019. Movement “up to five weeks” should be interpreted as a range of movement per month between zero and five weeks. Charlie anticipates publishing updated projections for potential monthly movement in the July 2019 Visa Bulletin.
Potential Monthly Movement through May 2019
Family-Based Preference Categories:
Worldwide dates (except oversubscribed countries):
FB-1: Up to 5 weeks
FB-2A: Up to 1 month
FB-2B: Up to 2 months
FB-3: Up to 2 weeks
FB-4: Up to 6 weeks
Employment-Based Preference Categories:
Employment First (EB-1):
Worldwide: Up to 2 months
China and India: Up to 1 month
Employment Second (EB-2):
Worldwide: Current for the foreseeable future
China: Up to 3 months
Employment Third (EB-3):
China: Up to 3 weeks
India: Up to 3 months
Philippines: Rapid movement to generate demand
Employment Fourth (EB-4):
El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras: Up to 1 week
Mexico: Rapid forward movement until per country limit is reached
Employment Fifth (EB-5):
China-mainland born: Up to 1 week
Vietnam: Up to 3 weeks
Some of us may wonder why EB-2 Worldwide would remain current “for the foreseeable future” while EB-3 Worldwide would simply be “current.” According to Charlie, both categories will remain current through May 2019 and are likely to remain current throughout this fiscal year. As a Final Action Date was imposed for EB-2 Worldwide during the last fiscal year, Charlie wanted to underscore the fact that based on current demand trends, he does not anticipate a Final Action Date will be imposed for EB-2 Worldwide during FY19. However, if USCIS demand significantly increases in the coming months, there is always the possibility that a Final Action Date will be imposed, in EB-2 Worldwide, or any other category.
Noteworthy Movement in February
Family-Based Preference Categories:
The family-based categories continue to have slow and steady movement of up to 1.5 months, except FB-1 Mexico, FB-3 Mexico and FB-4 Mexico, all of which maintain their Final Action Dates for the month of February.
The Dates for Filing Chart provides insight into where Charlie expects the Final Action Dates will be in the next 8 to 12 months. While there have been some modest advancements in the Dates for Filing chart, it is noteworthy that the Date for Filing for FB-4 Philippines leaps forward by almost one year. This is due to a combination of excessively low demand in this category and efforts to spur additional demand and encourage applicants to take action on their cases. Charlie recommends that eligible applicants file as soon as possible. If the rapid forward movement of the Date for Filing eventually spurs significant demand, it could create a volatile Final Action Date.
Employment-Based Preference Categories:
India EB-2/EB-3 Flips!
For several months, we have watched as the difference in Final Action Dates for EB-2 India and EB-3 India has become narrower. Charlie hinted at the potential for EB-3 India to surpass EB-2 India, and in February 2019 that finally occurs. EB-3 India will have a Final Action Date of April 22, 2009, which is roughly two weeks ahead of the EB-2 India Final Action Date of April 6, 2009. This situation has been created by the current overall low level of EB-3 Worldwide demand, which in turn is likely to make additional EB-3 numbers available for India.
It is unclear if this shift will spur downgrades from EB-2 to EB-3, and what the impact will be on the demand in these two categories. If this phenomenon leads to a significant number of downgrades, it would increase EB-3 India demand and could potentially bring the Final Action Dates for the two categories closer together. As of now, however, the anticipated forward movement through May 2019 for EB-2 India is “up to one week” in contrast to the “up to three months” movement expected in EB-3 India. Based on current demand trends, the Dates for Filing for EB-2 India is May 22, 2009, in contrast with the EB-3 India Date for Filing of April 1, 2010. We will watch this closely in the coming months.
No Flip for China (at least not in the foreseeable future):
The Final Action Date for EB-2 China advances two months to October 1, 2015, and remains ahead of EB-3 China, which advances only three weeks to July 1, 2015. That is not expected to change through May 2019, with EB-2 China expected to advance monthly “up to three months” in contrast with “up to three weeks” of movement for EB-3 China. However, the potential for a future “flip” of these two categories remains possible as according the February 2019 bulletin, the Dates for Filing for EB-2 China will be November 1, 2015, compared to January 1, 2016 for EB-3 China.
Charlie expects that dates for EB-2 China will start to move forward more rapidly to generate additional demand. Although EB-2 and EB-3 China demand declined in December 2018, it is starting to pick up again in January. While the increase in EB-2 China demand has been less dramatic, in the first 15 days of January, more numbers have already been issued for EB-3 China than throughout the entire month of December.
In February, the Final Action Date for EB-1 Worldwide advances two months to December 1, 2017. EB-1 China and EB-1 India advance 8 weeks to February 8, 2017.
The imposition of a final action date across all countries has been a significant concern. Charlie continues to emphasize that this is likely to be “the new normal.” Based on the information provided by USCIS, it appears that there is sufficient EB-1 demand to reach the annual limits this year, which would prevent EB-1 Worldwide from returning to “current” status. Charlie will continue to evaluate data provided by USCIS each month and provide updates through the Visa Bulletin and this column. Although Charlie’s meeting with the USCIS Ombudsman was cancelled this month due to the government shutdown, he continues to receive USCIS data.
EB-1 China and EB-1 India numbers are being used up at a rapid rate. Charlie believes the EB-1 dates will advance again, with EB-1 Worldwide advancing up to two months, and EB-1 China and EB-1 India advancing up to one month.
The Final Action Date for EB-3 Philippines advances 6 weeks to August 1, 2017. Demand in this category is below target demand. We should continue to expect to see this date advance rapidly until the target demand is reached. Persons should file as soon as they are eligible as rapid movement tends to significantly raise demand, and thus raise the possibility that future Final Action Dates will be volatile or will retrogress.
In February, the Final Action Date for EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras advances one week to March 1, 2016, and EB-4 Mexico advances 4.5 months to September 1, 2017. Demand in these categories is primarily driven by Special Immigrant Juvenile Cases. Charlie expects EB-4 Mexico to reach its per country limit during FY19. However, based on the current level of demand this would not occur until the fourth quarter of the fiscal year. At that time, the final action date will align with that of EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The EB-4 Mexico demand is coming through more slowly than Charlie anticipated based on movement of the date. Note that the Date for Filing for EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is May 1, 2016. Whereas the Date for Filing for EB-4 Mexico is “current.”
EB-4 India demand is driven by several types of cases, and not primarily by Special Immigrant Juvenile demand. Expect that this category will always have a final action date imposed, but do not expect this to occur until the 4th quarter of each year.
Scheduled Expiration of EB-4 SR and EB-5 (I5 and R5)
Reauthorization of the EB-4 Religious Workers (SR) and EB-5 (I5 and R5) categories are currently impacted by the partial government shutdown. Until these categories are reauthorized by Congress, they remain unavailable.
Should these categories be reauthorized, EB-4 SR would immediately become “current” for all countries except EB-4 SR El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which would have a Final Action Date of March 1, 2016, and EB-4 SR Mexico, which would have a Final Action Date of September 1, 2017. Similarly, EB-5 (I5 and R5) Worldwide would become “current,” with EB-5 (I5 and R5) China having a Final Action Date of September 1, 2014, and EB-5 (I5 and R5) Vietnam having a Final Action Date of June 15, 2016.
With the Regional Center Program using 90-95% of EB-5 numbers, the failure to reauthorize this category could create some disruptions in the perceived demand for visas.
Unless the post or National Visa Center cancels an already scheduled interview, Charlie advises that EB-4 SR and EB-5 (I5 and R5) applicants plan to attend their interviews. This will allow the visa number to be requested once the category is reauthorized.
Increased Consular Processing of EB Cases:
Last year there was a notable increase in consular processing of employment-based cases, which Charlie attributed to potential uncertainty by attorneys and applicants regarding the new USCIS district office interview policy. Although this policy has not significantly slowed down adjustment of status processing times, the increased preference for consular processing continues. To date, NVC is experiencing a 5% increase in consular processing of employment-based cases throughout this fiscal year compared to the last fiscal year.
The employment-based (EB) categories in the visa bulletin are as follows:
- EB-1 Priority Workers
- EB-2 Advanced Degree Professionals
- EB-3 Professionals & Other Workers
- EB-4 Religious Workers & Others
- EB-5 Investors
An applicant’s priority date is the day that the government received the employer’s PERM application. However, if a PERM application is not required, the priority date is the date the government received an EB visa petition (I-140, I-526). Watch our EB videos to see various methods of shortening your waiting time for a green card.
VISA BULLETIN – EMPLOYMENT
A. FINAL ACTION DATES FOR EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CASES –
|World||China||El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras||India||Mexico||Philippines||Vietnam|
B. EMPLOYMENT-BASED FILING DATE CHART – The chart below reflects dates for filing visa applications within a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process. Applicants for immigrant visas who have a priority date earlier than the application date in the chart may assemble and submit required documents to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, following receipt of notification from the National Visa Center containing detailed instructions. The application date for an oversubscribed category is the priority date of the first applicant who cannot submit documentation to the National Visa Center for an immigrant visa.
|World||China||El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras||India||Mexico||Philippines|
The family-based categories in the visa bulletin are as follows:
- F-1 Unmarried Adult Sons & Daughters of US Citizens
- F-2A Spouses & Children of LPRs
- F-2B Unmarried Adult Sons & Daughters of LPRs
- F-3 Married Sons & Daughters of US citizens
- F-4 Brothers & Sisters of US Citizens
An applicant’s priority date is the day that the government received the I-130 Petition. For more on family-based visas and how you may be able to shorten your waiting time, see our video above.
VISA BULLETIN – FAMILY
A. FINAL ACTION DATES FOR FAMILY-SPONSORED CASES – These dates are consistent with prior visa bulletin priority dates.
B. FAMILY-SPONSORED FILING DATE CHART – The chart below reflects dates for filing visa applications within a time frame justifying immediate action in the application process. Applicants for immigrant visas who have a priority date earlier than the application date in the chart may assemble and submit required documents to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, following receipt of notification from the National Visa Center containing detailed instructions. The application date for an oversubscribed category is the priority date of the first applicant who cannot submit documentation to the National Visa Center for an immigrant visa.
A priority date is established by the submission of a relative visa petition in the family categories.
The word “Current” indicates that no backlog presently exists in a particular category. Alternately, the word “Unavailable” indicates that it is not possible to apply for permanent residence in that category.
The dates in the Visa Bulletin can be misleading. They may look closer on the Bulletin than they are in reality.
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening an 8 attorney firm specializing in immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.
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