August 28th, 2012 — 3:52pm
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.
Comment » | Department of State, I-485, Lawful permanent resident
November 2nd, 2011 — 2:15pm
In the November Visa Bulletin, the Department of State (DOS) provides its prognosis on the likely availability and movement of visas for the next few months:
For Family (Worldwide) Categories: F1, expected to advance three to six weeks; F2A, three to six weeks; F2B, one to two weeks; F3, one to two weeks; and F4, up to one month.
For Employment Categories: EB-1, current; EB-2, current for Worldwide, Mexico, and The Philippines. (For China EB-2 and India EB-2, DOS reports that the current EB-2 cut-off date is approaching the most favorable date previously reached for such applicants; the dates reflect an effort to generate demand based on new filings for adjustment of status at USCIS offices. DOS advises, however, that once the level of demand increases sufficiently, the forward movement may be slowed or stopped, and a retrogression of the cut-offs at some point during the year is possible); EB-3, for Worldwide, expected to advance up to one month; China EB-3, one to three weeks; India EB-3, up to two weeks; Mexico EB-3, up to one month; Philippines EB-3, up to one month; EB-4, current; EB-5, current.
Comment » | Department of State, I-485, Lawful permanent resident
February 28th, 2011 — 3:50pm
USCIS processing times may be accessed on the Zulkie Partners website at http://www.zulkiepartners.com/processing.html.
The posted USCIS processing times represent data that is approximately 45 days old at the time of posting. In addition, the listed dates reflect the most-recently filed case in the particular product line on an examiner’s desk at the time the data as gathered. This means that there are many cases with substantially earlier receipt dates than those officially listed that have not been processed as of the date of publication of the processing times schedule. The National Customer Service Center (NCSC) is not using the processing times listed on the USCIS website when it considers whether a case is beyond the official USCIS processing times. The processing times used by NCSC are substantially longer than those on the posted processing time schedule in many cases, particularly in H and L filings, causing NCSC to refuse to submit a case inquiry in some instances.
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In addition, USCIS Customers can choose to receive automatic case status updates, which will be sent via e-mail. A new pilot program provides the additional option to receive a text message notification that a case status update has occurred, which will be sent to a United States mobile phone number. USCIS Customers who select the option to receive the text message notification acknowledge that Standard Messaging Rates or other charges related to these notifications may apply.
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Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, I-129, I-140, I-485
December 21st, 2010 — 3:47pm
Most foreign nationals who wish to be eligible for employment-based green cards must do so through the PERM labor certification process by having their employer file a labor certification application with the Department of Labor (DOL). The PERM application certifies that there are no U.S. workers who are willing, able, or available to fill a position offered by an American employer, and the employer must undertake extensive recruitment to prove such. The PERM application also certifies that the employer will pay the sponsored employee the prevailing wage for the job. Once approved or “certified,” the foreign-national employee can petition USCIS for eligibility under one of the employment-based preference categories by filing an I-140 immigrant visa petition.
The largely automated PERM program was introduced in March 2005 and touted by DOL as a new and retooled expedited labor certification process through which employers could begin their sponsorship of valued employees. Nevertheless, the PERM process remains laborious and complicated.
Over the past five years through the issuance of FAQs — DOL’s 11th and latest was issued in August — DOL has retroactively applied new rules to old cases and used the informal FAQ process to create or change its requirements. By forgoing the more formal route of promulgating regulations, which would afford public comment and mandate government consideration, the program remains riddled with deficiencies and uncertainties for employers. Moreover, the application takes about four to six months to prepare, plus another six to ten months for processing by DOL (from online submission to adjudication). And, if DOL requests that the employer’s recruitment and other records be audited, another 15 months will be tacked on for a DOL audit response. Beyond the changing rules and lengthy processing times, perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the process is how unforgiving it is — even the tiniest error on the PERM application can completely derail a case.
So why do employers and their employees bother? Despite these and other hurdles inherent in the PERM labor certification process, this route to permanent residence is often the only viable option for many needed employees. And, the process eventually works: long-time nonimmigrant employees and their families can become green card holders and, later, citizens of the United States. However, employers who anticipate long-term sponsorship of current employees must take particular care to ensure consistency throughout what can be a multi-process, nine- to ten-year immigration odyssey. This can be difficult, especially when the immigration laws are not consistent. For example, a foreign national can be a “professional” for H-1B purposes on the basis of experience and education but not for immigrant visa purposes. Employers also must take care to timely file their PERM applications, especially when their H-1B employees are approaching their final year of their visa status. Indeed, long-term immigration strategies must be considered when hiring H‑1Bs.
Until this system changes, employers and their immigration counsel should actively review pending cases to determine whether additional documentation is required to meet ever-changing DOL requirements. Counsel and employers also are advised to determine from the start the best short- and long-term strategies for their employees.
Comment » | Department of Labor, I-140, I-485, Lawful permanent resident
November 15th, 2010 — 3:55pm
The U.S. Department of State has just released the December Visa Bulletin which contains the following updated guidance on visa availability.
F. VISA AVAILABILITY IN THE COMING MONTHS
Family-sponsored: From early 2009 through September 2010, the level of demand for numbers in the Family-sponsored preference categories was very low. As a result, the cut-off dates for most Family preference categories were advanced at a very rapid pace, in an attempt to generate demand so that the annual numerical limits could be fully utilized. As readers were advised in previous Visa Bulletins providing projections of visa availability (e.g., April 2009, January 2010, May 2010, July 2010), such cut-off date advances could not continue indefinitely, and at some point they could slow, stop, or in some cases retrogress.
The level of demand which has been experienced during FY-2011 has resulted in most of the worldwide cut-off dates being held for the month of December. At this time it is not possible to predict when or if these dates may advance further, and there is a distinct possibility that retrogressions could occur as early as January if demand within the established cut-off dates does not appear to be subsiding.
Employment-based: At this time it is unlikely that there will be any cut-off dates in the Employment First preference during the coming months. It also appears unlikely that it will be necessary to establish a cut-off date other than those already in effect for the Second preference category. Cut-off dates continue to apply to the China and India Second preference categories due to heavy demand.
Based on current indications of demand, the best case scenarios for cut-off date movement each month during the coming months are as follows:
China: none to two weeks
India: no movement
Worldwide: three to six weeks
China: one to three weeks
India: none to two weeks
Mexico: although continued forward movement is expected, no specific projections are possible at this time.
Philippines: three to six weeks
Please be advised that the above ranges are estimates based upon the current demand patterns, and are subject to fluctuations during the coming months. The cut-off dates for upcoming months cannot be guaranteed, and no assumptions should be made until the formal dates are announced.
Comment » | Department of State, I-140, I-485, I-551, Lawful permanent resident