Priority Dates: How Visa Wait Time Affects the Family-Sponsored Immigration Petitions?

Our Blog readers often inquire regarding visa wait times and priority dates. This article will answer the top three frequent asked questions by previous clients, which are “What is the visa waiting list?”, “Why there is a preference category?” and “What is the current cut-off date for my visa category in my country?”
I. What is the visa waiting list?

The visa waiting list refers to those cases where the petition from the U.S. sponsor has been approved, but they still cannot proceed with processing because of statutory limits on the total number of visas and the per-country limits. According to the U.S. Department of State, the annual family sponsored preference categories are limited to 226,000 (Note: this excludes spouses, parents, and minor children of U.S. Citizens, who are the highest priority for immigration and are exempt from immigration caps). It is required by the Immigration and Naturalization Act that family sponsored visas be granted in the order that the eligible potential immigrants applied.

The length of time you must wait in line before receiving an immigrant visa or adjusting status depends on: 1) the demand for and supply of immigrant visa numbers; 2) the per country visa limitations; and 3) the number of visas allocated for your particular preference category. It is the policy concern based on a set of priorities for deciding who would be granted a visa.

Among the various categories, there is a preference of those who had sponsoring relatives already living in the U.S., based on family relationship as follows in order:
• F1: unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens
• F2A: spouses and children (under the age of 21)
• F2B: unmarried adult children of permanent residents
• F3: married adult children of U.S. citizens
• F4: siblings of adult U.S. citizens
The higher the preference category is, the shorter the wait for an available visa.

II. Why there is a preference category?

The main reason why there is a preference category is that there is a greater demand for visas than available each year. Many years, there are more eligible applicants than there are available visas, which leads to a backlog of individuals who qualify to immigrate but are waiting for a visa o become available. For countries with the highest demand, there are fewer visas to go around, and thus you will be waiting for an indefinite amount of time.

In order to predict how long you still need to wait in line, you need to check the priority dates and how fast the dates are moving. Most of the time, priority dates move forward and the processing time will gets closer. However, sometimes, the priority date might move backward, if there are way too many applicants in your country. Countries that have the highest demand on visas are China, India, Mexico, and Philippines. Here brings up the third most frequent asked questions.

III. What is the current cut-off date for my visa category in my country?

The table below shows the cut-off date for visa applicants in each category as of February 2013. The dates are the dates by which a person had to apply to finally have a visa available.


You can tell from the table, the least oversubscribed visa category is the F2A. For those applicants, they will need to wait a bit under 3 years. The slowest in progressing visa goes to F4. For other visa from Mexico, the applicants need to wait more than 20 years.

If you need further information regarding your visa wait time, we are more than happy to answer.