Articles Posted in Visa Backlogs

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On June 13, 2017, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) spoke with Charles Oppenheim, the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division for the U.S. Department of State, to discuss current trends trends and future projections for various employment and family preference categories.

Family preference and employment immigrant categories are subject to numerical limitations and are divided by preference systems and priority dates on the Visa Bulletin. Family-sponsored preference categories are limited to a minimum of 226,000 visas per year, while employment-based preference categories are limited to a minimum of 140,000 visas per year. The Visa Bulletin is a useful tool for aliens to determine when a visa will become available to them so that they may apply for permanent residence. Applicants who fall under family preference or employment categories must wait in line until a visa becomes available to them in order to proceed with their immigrant visa applications. Once the immigrant’s priority date becomes current, per the Visa Bulletin, the applicant can proceed with their immigrant visa application.

Current Trends & Future Projections:

Employment-based preference categories:

EB-1 China and India:  

The final action date imposed on EB-1 China and EB-1 India (January 1, 2012) during the month of June of 2017, will remain and is expected to remain through the end of this fiscal year.

Per Charles Oppenheim, “Due to the availability (through May) of “otherwise unused numbers” in these categories, EB-1 China has used more than 6,300 numbers and EB-1 India has used more than 12,900 so far this fiscal year.”

EB-2 Worldwide:

Good news! EB-2 Worldwide remains current due to a slight decrease in demand in the second half of May and a steady level of demand in the month of June.

Projection: Oppenheim expects a final action cutoff date to be imposed on this category in August which is expected to be significant, however this category is expected to become current again on October 1, 2017.

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On December 12, 2016, the Department of State published the Annual Numerical Limits for both family and employment-based visa preference categories for Fiscal Year 2017.

Family preference and employment immigrant categories are subject to numerical limitations and are divided by preference systems on the Visa Bulletin and become current based on the immigrant’s priority date. The Visa Bulletin estimates immigrant visa availability for prospective immigrants. Applicants who fall under family preference or employment categories must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available to them, for applicants to proceed with their immigrant visa application. Once the immigrant’s priority date becomes current per the Visa Bulletin, the applicant can proceed with their immigrant visa application. A priority date is generally the date when your relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition on your behalf with USCIS. The Visa Bulletin exists due to numerical immigrant visa limitations for family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories established by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Family-sponsored preference categories are limited to a minimum of 226,000 visas per year, while employment-based preference categories are limited to a minimum of 140,000 visas per year. The Visa Bulletin is a useful tool for aliens to determine when a visa will become available to them so that they may apply for permanent residence.

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On September 21, 2016 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted the adjustment of status filing dates for October 2016.

If you are waiting to apply for permanent residence based on an approved family-sponsored petition (I-130) or based on an approved employment-based petition (I-140), USCIS has advised that you refer to the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart on the October Visa Bulletin to determine when to file your application for permanent residence according to your priority date (the date when your relative or employer properly filed your immigrant visa petition with USCIS) and your preference category. Generally, applicants who have filed the immigrant petition and have been approved, must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available, before seeking adjustment of status to permanent resident. This is because availability of immigrant visas for certain classes of immigrants are limited. These preference categories appear in the Visa Bulletin, as well as the number of visas available for each preference category.

Note: For employment-based petitions if a labor certification is required to be filed with your immigrant visa petition, the priority date is the date the labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor.

What is the Visa Bulletin and the Dual Chart System?

Every month, the Department of State releases a monthly Visa Bulletin which provides estimates on immigrant visa availability according to family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories. As you may recall, in September of last year, USCIS introduced a new chart called the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart in addition to the ‘Application Final Action Date’ chart. Together this dual chart system governs when applicants may file their applications for permanent residence according to visa availability, the applicant’s preference category, and the date of filing (priority date).

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The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will allow the families of certain Filipino World War II veterans to reunite with veterans beginning June 8, 2016 as a result of a new policy change called Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Policy. In order to qualify, extended family members of veterans must be beneficiaries of approved family-based immigrant visa petitions, and be awaiting the availability of an immigrant visa. Certain extended family members of U.S. Citizen or LPR Filipino World War II Veterans will have the opportunity to receive advance parole on a ‘discretionary’ case-by-cases basis in order to travel to the United States to be with their loved ones, while they await an immigrant visa to become available. In addition, certain relatives of deceased Filipino World War II veterans, will be able to seek parole for themselves. This new policy change has been implemented to honor Filipino veterans who enlisted in the World War II Veterans Parole Program to fight for our country during World War II. The initiative will also allow extended family members to care and support their U.S. Citizen or LPR veteran family members during the advanced stages of their life. According to the policy, approximately 2,000 to 6,000 family members will be able to benefit from this new policy change. Applications for the the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program will not be accepted until June 8, 2016.

Presently, the process of immigrating extended family members of U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents residing abroad is a very complex and antiquated process. This is because there is a limit to the number of immigrant visa applications that can be issued for extended family members. The Visa Bulletin outlines the numerical immigrant visa limitations for family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories established by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

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Presently, the Employment and Training Administration’s (ETA) Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) is experiencing significant delays in processing employer H-2B certification applications.  These delays are owed to various factors. The most important includes a mandatory 17-day certification pause that took place at the Chicago National Processing Center, for the purpose of implementing revisions of the H-2B prevailing wage and other standards required by law. Additionally, the OFLC announced that the amount of H-2B certification applications received has doubled in comparison to the previous year. Lastly, the electronic filing system iCERT, experienced significant technical problems, slowing the certification process down significantly for employers of H-2B workers. Unfortunately, these delays have diminished an employer’s ability to hire foreign workers during a time of need, and have had an adverse affect on small businesses who depend on these temporary and seasonal workers to perform work that cannot be readily filled by American workers.

To alleviate the certification backlogs, the Chicago National Processing Center has announced that employers may file an emergency request for expeditious handling of their applications under 20 CFR 655.17.

Expeditious Requests for Emergency Procedures under 20 CFR 655.17:

  • Based on the factors causing the backlogs, the OFLC has determined that employers are entitled to request expeditious emergency procedures for their currently pending applications for certification, under 20 CFR 655.17, on the basis of good and substantial cause. Emergency requests are warranted given that the backlogs caused by the delays in the application process are considered outside of the employers’ control, that employers have suffered unforeseen changes in market conditions because of the delays, amid a climate of uncertainty.

Employers with pending H-2B applications for certification must submit their expedite requests for emergency procedure, by email to the Chicago NPC at ER.H2B.Chicago@dol.gov beginning Monday February 22, 2016 (12:01 AM) through Friday April 1, 2016 (at 12:00 midnight). Requests may also be made by fax (312) 886-1688 or by US mail to:

ATTN: H-2B Request for Emergency Handling

U.S. Department of Labor ETA OFLC

Chicago NPC

11 West Quincy Court

Chicago, IL 60604-2105

The NPC may extend this emergency request period beyond April 1, however at this time no such extension has been announced.  Filing a new H-2B application is not necessary for an expedite request.

Employers filing for emergency treatment under 20 CFR 655.17 must request that the pending application for certification and proposed job order be “incorporated by reference” into the request made under 20 CFR 655.17, and state the withdrawal of the prior application. The procedure for submitting an expedite requested will be listed below.

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On Thursday, December 31, 2015 the Department of Homeland Security published a new proposed rule affecting highly skilled immigrant and non-immigrant workers alike. The proposed rule, introduced in last week’s federal register, aims to improve the ability of American employers to hire and retain highly skilled workers waiting to receive their employment-based lawful permanent residence in the visa bulletin backlogs. Additionally, the proposed rule aims to enhance opportunities for such workers allowing them to be more easily promoted, to accept lateral positions with their current employers, change employers, and pursue other employment. While the proposed rule is not groundbreaking, it does address important challenges employers and their highly skilled workers have faced as the law stands today and makes recommendations for such relief. The proposed rule will be open for comment until February 29, 2016.

You may remember that on November 20, 2014 the President highlighted, as part of his executive actions on immigration, that the employment-based immigration system needed to be amended to modernize, improve, and clarify immigrant and nonimmigrant visa programs in order to create more jobs, foster innovation at home, retain a highly skilled workforce that would allow the United States to compete with other countries, and to stimulate the American economy overall.  In order to modernize the employment based immigration system, USCIS would be required to work with the Department of State to modernize and simplify the immigrant visa allocation process. Part of this process would require the Department of State to make reasoned projections of employment-based immigrant visa availability on the visa bulletin, that could be relied upon by employers and their highly skilled workers.

Presently, immigrant workers from India and China are experiencing extraordinary delays in the employment-based queue for permanent residence, while other highly skilled workers are forced to wait over a five-year period to receive company sponsorship and lawful permanent residence. Furthermore, such workers are forced to remain on temporary employment-sponsored visas in the United States while waiting for an immigrant visa to become available to them. This puts the immigrant worker in a predicament giving the employer the upper hand, while restricting the employee from seeking advancement and discouraging new employment, since this would require the employer to file a new petition and incur the expensive fees required for filing. Highly skilled works facing extortionate delays in the visa backlogs have experienced hindered employer/employee career advancement and job mobility. The new rules will provide limited relief in this area.

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The December visa bulletin was recently released by the DOS on November 9, 2015. For the month of December CIS has announced that family based applicants must use the ‘date of filing’ chart to determine when their adjustment of status applications may be filed. This means that for family based preference categories, there are presently immigrant visas available and demand has not yet been met for the fiscal year. Employment based applicants must refer to the ‘final action date’ chart as a basis for applying for adjustment of status. This means that presently there is more demand than immigrant visas available for employment based categories. For the month of December, filing dates have remained unchanged. The impact of the dual chart system will not be felt until CIS requests visa numbers from the DOS in April 2016 for adjustment of status filings based on the October Visa Bulletin. In this post we will discuss new announcements that have appeared on the December visa bulletin and projections for EB-2 India, EB-2 and EB-3 China, F-2A, and F-2B. These projections are based on guidance provided by the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, Charles Oppenheim. While they do not guarantee actual immigrant visa availability, these projections are helpful reference points.

Replacement of Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and New Visa Waiting List

The December visa bulletin has announced that the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) used internally by the Department of States will be replaced with 9 FAM-e beginning November 18, 2015. Public release of the new FAM has not yet been announced.

Additionally, a ‘Visa Waiting List’ will be released beginning with the January Visa Bulletin which will provide applicants information on the National Visa Center waiting list starting November 1, 2015.

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Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson

On October 28, 2015 sixteen Democrats from the House of Representatives including —Zoe Lofgren, Michael M. Honda, Judy Chu, Katherine M. Clark, Elijah E. Cummings, Anna G. Eshoo, Tulsi Gabbard, Luis V. Gutierrez, James A. Himes, Ruben Hinojosa, Eddie B. Johnson, James P. McGovern, Frank Pallone Jr., Jared Polis, David E. Price, and Alma S. Adams — issued a letter addressed to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson concerning drastic revisions made to the Visa Bulletin on September 25, 2015.

In the letter, House Democrats argue that the revisions to the Visa Bulletin have compromised the integrity of the immigrant visa process, and resulted in a lose of faith in our immigration system. More over they argue that these revisions have adversely impacted the lives of thousands of immigrants, the American businesses who employ highly skilled workers, and our economy which benefits from retaining highly skilled workers.

As previously reported, the Department of State had published a dual chart system on September 9, 2015 with the addition of a new ‘date of filing chart’ which first appeared on the October Visa Bulletin. This new ‘date of filing’ chart was implemented in an effort to modernize and streamline the immigration process, as part of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform.

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Photograph taken at Ellis Island

Further changes have been made to the November Visa Bulletin published earlier this month by the Department of State. The dual chart system remains in place including the ‘final action date’ chart and ‘date of filing’ chart. So what has changed? USCIS has become more involved in the application process for family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant applications since the introduction of the date of filing chart. A disclaimer has now been added to the November Visa Bulletin above the date of filing chart which instructs applicants to visit the USCIS website for more instructions on how and when the chart is to be used. USCIS has created this new web page to notify applicants whether they can proceed with applications for permanent residence based on the date of filing chart published monthly on the Visa Bulletin. The website will be updated within about a week of the publication of the Visa Bulletin every month. The webpage is intended to provide applicants information in regards to visa availability for family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant visas for each fiscal year, letting applicants know whether the filing date chart is enforceable. So far, USCIS has indicated that the filing date chart for October and November 2015 is enforceable.

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As some of you may have heard, on September 25th the US Department of State made some additional changes to the October 2015 Visa Bulletin. These changes include new and earlier date of filing cut-offs than those initially released on September 9th. The date of filing chart released on September 25th will replace the prior one released on September 9th. To view the complete changes please click here. These new changes have raised several concerns for our readers.

What caused the visa numbers to be re-issued after their release on September 9, 2015?

Though we cannot ascertain the exact reasons why these changes have come about, we can make the fair assumption that these changes were likely due to workload concerns and a lack of resources necessary to accommodate the large amount of adjustment of status applications expected to be filed beginning October 1st. The anticipated workload may have given the Department of State no choice but to retrogress the visa numbers in heavily used categories.

Is the Department of State reneging on their promise to modernize and streamline the immigration process as part of Obama’s executive actions on immigration?

While it is disappointing that the visa numbers on the ‘date of filing’ chart have retrogressed, a departure from the promised executive actions does not seem to be the case. The visa numbers have been adjusted in an effort to streamline the immigration process in a way that is viable, practical, and effective. Dates of filing have been adjusted for family-sponsored and employment-based preferences to create a practical timeline that provide CIS the sufficient time needed to process the large volume of anticipated adjustment of status applications.

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