In July, US embassies in Mexico expanded the Department of States program to waive the nonimmigrant visa interview requirement to allow persons to obtain a new visa without scheduling a consular interview if they are applying for same visa within 48 months of their prior visa’s expiration date. Previously, the visa interview waiver was only available to persons whose valid visas had expired within 12 months of the date of reapplication. The visa interview waiver program was initiated in January on an embassy-by-embassy basis to facilitate international travel to the U.S. by frequent business travelers and tourists. Currently, the program is in effect in only a limited number of countries.
Category: Department of State
Why Do Visa Numbers Surge Forward and Then Retrogress? Predicting Visa Availability for Backlogged Categories?
Predicting when a priority date will become current and when the wait on the long immigrant visa queue will finally be over can often be pure guess work. With visas suddenly unavailable or unexpectedly within reach, preference-visa applicants and their attorneys have learned to accept this phenomenon as just another part of the immigration system. In a recent interview with the head of the Visa Control and Reporting Division at the State Department’s Visa Office – the office charged with establishing the monthly priority dates for the Visa Bulletin – Charles Oppenheim sheds some light on the process and provides his predictions for the months to come.
In October 2012, when new visas are allocated for fiscal year 2013, the employment-based second category (EB-2) worldwide will become current but, Mr. Oppenheim warns, the EB-2 category may retrogress or become unavailable for the rest of the year if USCIS adjudicates a significant number of cases in the summer. EB-2 cut-off dates for China (Mainland born) and India, currently “unavailable,” will only move to August or September 2007 and are not likely to move forward for at least six months due to pent-up demand. Many of these individuals were just two years away from obtaining their green cards in April 2012 when the priority date was May 1, 2010. Now, these foreign nationals can expect at least a five-year wait. Why did this happen? Why do priority dates move so far ahead and then retrogress so drastically?
Apparently, USCIS had approved many I-140 employment-based immigrant visa petitions but had not received a corresponding number of I-485 adjustment of status applications to adjudicate and thus urged DOS to move these priority dates forward. Moreover, USCIS expected that adjudication of EB-1 cases would be at the same rate as last fiscal year, and not more. All of these factors led to the forward movement of the EB-2 priority date. The dates then severely retrogressed when demand caught up with visa availability. Another factor for seesawing EB-2 priority dates was the increase in EB-5 investor immigrant visa cases. Unused EB-5 visas trickle down into the EB-1 category, and unused EB-1 visas fall into EB-2. This year, there was less of the normal trickle-down between categories.
Another issue that clouds prediction of visa demand and visa availability, as explained by Mr. Oppenheim, is that neither USCIS nor DOS maintains statistics on upgrades from the EB-3 category to the EB-2 preference category. This can occur, for example, when an applicant applies for an EB-3 visa petition but then advances in his or her career or changes jobs and becomes eligible for an EB-2 visa or marries an EB-2 applicant. In these instances, the individual then has two visa numbers allocated to him. The unused or duplicate visa number (EB-3) is only cancelled when the visa applicant uses the EB-2 visa number during green card issuance. According to Mr. Oppenheim, there are between 10,000 and 15,000 duplicate visas numbers as a result of “upgrades” each fiscal year – a wide variance. For 2013, that number is already at 17,000, which underscores the difficulty in predicting upgrades and thus visa availability.
Retrogressions are not good for anyone and neither agency likes them. For USCIS, it means it has to adjudicate more work authorization and travel documents without a fee, and for DOS, it means lack of predictability. For individuals, it means further uncertainty and futures delayed.
U.S. embassies and consulates are sometimes forced to limit or, at times, suspend visa services because of natural disasters, civil unrest, war, and/or security concerns, among other reasons. The Department of State recently released an updated list of those countries with limited or no visa services. The list also provides information on where affected applicants can go to obtain visa services. See http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/info/info_1302.html.
Early this year, DOS announced a pilot program, being implemented on an embassy-by-embassy basis, to waive the nonimmigrant visa interview requirement for certain visa renewals. Recently, the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, announced the expansion of the visa interview waiver program to certain applicants seeking to renew a B1/B2, C1/D, or F/J/M visa that expired within the last 48 months. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India announced the expansion of the program to certain applicants seeking to renew a B1/B2 visa (also expired within the last 48 months). And, the U.S. Embassy in Russia also announced the expansion of the program to applicants seeking to renew a B1/B2 or C1/D visa that expired within the last 47 months. Earlier, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, launched its visa interview waiver pilot program for certain B, C, D, F, J, M and O visa holders, and special rules went into effect for certain Brazilian citizens waiving their consular interviews. See http://bit.ly/beijing-waiver and http://bit.ly/brazil-waiver.
The Department of State (DOS) has adjusted the visa processing fees, effective April 13. While most nonimmigrant visa fees increase, all immigrant visa fees decrease. The following are the new fees for some of the most common visas: H, L, O, P, Q and R, $190; E, $270; K fiancé(e)s, $240; immediate relative and family preference application, $230; and employment-based applications, $405. Border crossing cards for those over 14 increase to $160. See http://1.usa.gov/fees_4-13-12.