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.