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Department of State on Immigrant Visa Prioritization

On August 30, 2021, the Department of State announced Immigrant Visa Prioritization, i.e., how US embassies and consulates are prioritizing immigrant visa applications. The consular posts that process both immigrant and non-immigrant visas are prioritizing immigrant visa applications while still providing some non-immigrant visa services.  However, the volume and type of visa cases each post will process continues to depend on local conditions, including restrictions on movement and gathering imposed by host country governments.

The guiding principle on which Department of State has based immigrant visa prioritization is that family reunification is a clear priority of the U.S. Government’s immigration policy, a priority is expressed in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  Specifically, the Department’s prioritization relies on clear direction from Congress that the Department must adopt a policy of prioritizing immediate relative visa applicants and K-1 fiancees of U.S. citizens, followed by family preference immigrant visa applicants.

The U.S. embassies and consulates are using a tiered approach to triage immigrant visa applications based on the category of immigrant visa as they resume and expand processing.  While the consular sections, where possible, are scheduling some appointments within all four priority tiers every month, the following lists the main categories of immigrant visas in priority order:

  • Tier One: Immediate relative inter-country adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government), and emergency cases as determined on a case-by-case basis.
  • Tier Two:  Immediate relative visas; fiance(e) visas; and returning resident visas
  • Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad
  • Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas

Many embassies and consulates continue to have a significant backlog of all categories of immigrant visas.  This prioritization plan instructs posts to maximize their limited resources to accommodate as many immediate relative and fiancé(e) cases as possible with a goal of, at a minimum, preventing the backlog from growing in these categories and hopefully reducing it. However, the prioritization plan also instructs posts to schedule and adjudicate some cases in Tier Three and Tier Four each month.  The visa applicants, particularly those in Tiers Three and Four, will face continued delays. According to the Department of State, as a result of COVID the number of visas issued in lower-priority preference categories or in such programs as the diversity visa program likely will not approach the statutory ceiling in Fiscal Year 2021.

The U.S. embassies and consulates are instructed that they may prioritize as emergencies on a case-by-case basis the immigrant visa cases of certain healthcare professionals who will work at a facility engaged in pandemic response.  Healthcare professionals who will work at a facility engaged in pandemic response and have an approved U.S. immigrant visa petition with a current priority date for an Immediate Relative, Family Preference, or Employment-Based Preference case may review the website of their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for procedures to request an emergency visa appointment.

If the case is being processed at the National Visa Center (NVC), the applicant may request expedited processing by emailing NVCExpedite@state.gov, including the case or receipt number on the subject line, along with at least one of the following: (1) petitioner’s name and date of birth, (2) beneficiary’s name and date of birth, and/or (3) invoice ID number.  Applicants should be prepared to show that they will be employed in the healthcare industry at a U.S. facility engaged in pandemic response.  Resource constraints and local government restrictions may limit the ability of some U.S. embassies and consulates to process emergency visas at this time.

We will regularly update the blog as soon as any new information is available.

Disclaimer

This article aims to provide new information concerning immigrant visa prioritization. This article, under no circumstances, acts as legal advice; therefore, for any immigration questions, please contact your Attorney or the Ahluwalia Law Offices, P.C. (Team ALO).

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