Family-Related Immigration Delays: Insights on the Numbers (2023)

You interview a new LPR client and advise him to file an I-130 petition on behalf of his unmarried daughter. You get to the part of the interview where you have to tell him how long it will be after you file the F-2B petition before you start the second step: applying for permanent residency. The easiest way is to get the latestBulletinsand make an educated guess. However, is this the best you can do?

Each year, the Department of State (DOS) releases a report on the number of immigrant visa applicants waiting for their priority dates to be updated to complete consular processing. The latest report is available.Here. It is useful to see how many people are waiting in line and how long they have waited in order to assess how long they are late in each family preference category and for each country.

This information cannot be obtained by querying the latestBulletins. For example February 2019Bulletinsnotes that applicants from Mexico with a priority date prior to February 8, 1998 are “current” in Schedule A F-4 category and may be scheduled for a consular interview. Does this mean that US citizens filing an I-130 for their Mexican siblings today can expect consular processing 21 years from now? What if it's more likely they'll have to wait 50 years? 75 years? Would that change the advice you give these customers?


Most practitioners, especially beginners, assume that theBulletinsProgress with at least some regularity, month after month. They may find that while there are periods of visa cancellation, they expect visa demand to stabilize over time. So when they see that people who petitioned 20 years ago are now scheduled for Visa interviews, they interpret that as a 20-year delay.

Experienced professionals know better and recognize that it is impossible to predict visa availability with certainty. At least theBulletinsStep forwards and backwards as needed in the different categories. And the system for assigning visas and determining when a priority date becomes effective is very complex and subject to factors beyond your control and knowledge.

But also practitioners who understand thisBulletinsIt is not an accurate indicator of when a priority date will be updated, they do not provide accurate ratings to their customers. Don't just play it safe and don't make predictions. There is a big difference between waiting 20 years or 50 or 75 years for the consular procedure and customers need to know the reality. As a professional, unless there are changes in the law, you must inform them of their chances of emigrating so that they can make an informed decision.

The State Department's assignment of visas is not a mystery, nor is it intended to predict demand for visas in any particular category. In fact, we can see the backlog in each family category for each country with some accuracy, and we can at least predict with some accuracy when the category will become current for a petition filed today. However, to estimate when the priority date will be updated, the annual reports of DOS and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should be consulted, since each agency maintains separate numbers for immigrant visa applications and status adjustments that are approved, respectively. Therefore, the numbers included in the DOS report indicate only I-130 petitions that were approved and filed with the National Visa Center and not status adjustments of applications processed by USCIS.

Congress has set a limit on the number of foreign-born persons admitted to the United States as family-based immigrants each year. INA § 201(c)(1)(A)(i). A formula that sets a threshold for each category of family-based immigration except for “immediate relatives” (spouse, minor unmarried children, and parents of US citizens) governs family-based immigration. The formula allows for work-based immigrant visas not used in one year to be used for family-based immigration the following year, and for family-based immigrant visas not used in one year to be added to the boundary the following year. This formula means that there are small fluctuations in family immigration from year to year. Due to the numerical limitation, there are long waiting times for a visa in most family-related preference categories.

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die dhsYearbook of Immigration Statistics 2017states that a total of 748,746 people have been granted lawful permanent resident (LPR) status on the basis of a family application: 516,508 immediate family members and 232,238 in the preferred categories. About half of the immediate family members adjusted their status, while the other half sued consularly. But of the 232,328 who became LPRs in one of the preference categories, the vast majority (218,760) sued consularly and only a few (13,478 or 6%) adjusted their status.

The latest DOSAnnual Report on Immigrant Visa Applicantsconfirms this ratio for fiscal year 2018. For example, last year consulates issued 211,641 immigrant visas in the family-based preference category, while USCIS issued 12,449 status adjustment permits in those categories, or 5.5% of the total.

The following is the number of visas available in each of the four family-based preference categories for fiscal year 2019:

  • First preference (unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens): 23,400 visas per year plus excess fourth preference visas, capped at 7% by country (1,638 visas)
  • Second Preference (F-2A) (LPR spouses and minor children): 87,934 visas per year, plus surplus first preference visas, basically no cap per country
  • Second Preference (F-2B) (unmarried adult children of LPRs): 26,266 visas per year, plus excess first preference visas, capped at 7 percent by country (1,841 visas)
  • Third Preference (married adult children of US citizens): 23,400 visas per year plus additional first and second preference visas, capped at 7 percent per country (1,638 visas) and
  • Fourth preference (brothers and sisters of US citizens 21 and older): 65,000 visas/year, plus visas in excess of previous preferences capped at 7% by country (4,555 visas). INA §§ 203(a)(1)-(a)(4).

As we all know, to determine if an applicant is “current” in a family-based preference category, the priority date must be compared to the date listed in Table A, Family Preference Promotion End Dates. sponsored preference, in the monthly report.Bulletins. The priority date is the official date that USCIS determined the petition was filed. To be current, the priority date must precede the date inBulletinsaccording to preference category and country of citizenship. DOS uses Table B, Dates for Family Sponsored Visa Application Submissions, to determine when to begin the process of applying for payment of fees and filing of forms and documents; USCIS also uses Month-to-Month Schedule B to allow eligible individuals to request a status adjustment.

The Department of State determines visa availability based on legal restrictions for each preference category, country restrictions, and current, historical, and estimated demand. Applicants primarily compete globally for visas, with each country capped at 7% of the number of visas available in each preference category. The country limitation serves to circumvent the monopoly of the annual limitation by applicants from some countries. Of course, this national limit does not apply to immediate family members.

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The per-country limitation also now no longer applies to most LPR spouses and unmarried children in the second preference category, as visas have been added in the FX classification. Part of the figures for the second preference category (F-2A, 21,984 visas) are subject to the country cap, while the others (FX, 65,900 visas) are exempt. This explains why all countries have the same deadline in category F-2A in Chart B and almost the same date in Chart A (Mexico is two weeks behind the other countries due to higher demand). On the other hand, for the F-2B category, there is an annual limit of only 26,266 visas that can be used in a given fiscal year and a limit of 7% of that number per country. Mexico and the Philippines are much further behind than the other countries due to increased demand and the limited number of visas available.

It is impossible to estimate the availability of visas in the future just by looking at themBulletinsfor a given month as you need to consider the current backlog in each category. There is DOSAnnual Report on Immigrant Visa Applicantscomes into play, as well as a history of visa promotion in that particular category. By looking at the annual report, we can identify the number of people worldwide waiting to immigrate in each preference category, as well as the number of people waiting in each category. privileged status in the four oversubscribed countries: India, China, Mexico and the Philippines. With this information, we can get a more accurate picture of the actual wait time for a current priority day.

For example, let's go back to your LPR client filing an I-130 petition on behalf of her daughter in the F-2B category. If you just look at themBulletinsfor February 2019 see that applications in category F-2B for countries other than Mexico and the Philippines in box A are valid if submitted before May 1, 2012. But the difference of six years and nine months between that date and February January 2019 does not mean that the F-2B petitions filed today will take effect in six years and nine months.

How would you calculate the F-2B hold for recipients from non-oversubscribed countries? You would look at the 2018 DOS report and see that the number of outstanding F-2B applicants worldwide is 324,231. Only 26,266 visas are available each year in the F-2B category and there are three countries with over-registration (Mexico, Dominican Republic and the Philippines) that are at or above the 7% threshold per country (1,838 visas). The total number of approved petitions in the F-2B category from the three oversubscribed countries is 221,613. With this information we can perform the following calculations:

  1. Number of outstanding F-2B applicants from non-oversubscribed countries = 102,618 (324,231 – 221,613)
  2. Number of available F-2B visas for oversubscribed countries = 5,514 (3 x 1,838)
  3. Number of available F-2B visas for countries without overbooking = 20,752 (26,266 – 5,514)
  4. Estimated time to receive a current priority date for F-2Bs from a non-oversubscribed country = 5 years (102,618 ÷ 20,752).

In other words, an F-2B candidate from a non-oversubscribed country who petitioned today will likely be updated in February 2024 or maybe a little later. This approximation does not take into account the number of status application adjustments that USCIS will approve each year that will reduce the number of available immigrant visas in family preference categories. However, we can assume that the numbers will not fall by more than 5 to 6 percent. Additionally, some F-2B visa applicants will die, remarry, withdraw their applications, or be downgraded to a more favorable category during this period. However, this decrease is offset to some extent by the number of children of these applicants who are added to this backlog as beneficiaries of later acquired derivatives.

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What if your LPR customer wanting to petition on behalf of their daughter is from Mexico? If you only look at February 2019Bulletins, you will see that petitions filed before July 22, 1997 are now active in Schedule A for Mexicans in the F-2B category. However, does this mean that these petitions submitted today will be in force 22 years from now? In fact, the expected delays in these categories are much longer, due to greater demand from Mexicans.

The calculation of the expected waiting time for oversubscribed countries is the same as for non-oversubscribed countries. The number of F-2B visas available for Mexico each year is 1,841. Mexico's number of outstanding F-2B applicants as of November 1, 2018 is 139,673. The time it takes to clear the current backlog is about 76 years (139,673 ÷ 1,841). In other words, a Mexican applying today for his unmarried son or daughter in the F-2B category can expect that person to be upgraded in 2095. For this reason, the appropriate answer to your client's question about when you will be available for the visa is "probably never". I could be wrong by a few years or even a few decades, but the answer would still be the same.

Do not overlook the fact that if the LPR applicant naturalises, the unmarried son or daughter will convert to the F-1 category and may immigrate faster. However, applying the same formula and using the current DOS numbers, it is found that the first preference for the Mexicans is almost on the F-2B (1 August 1997 x 22 July 1997). For practical reasons, it does not matter whether the applicant is naturalized. But an applicant from a country that is not oversubscribed can wait longer if the petitioner naturalizes: around 6 years (118,624 ÷ 20,124) in the F-1 category instead of 5 years in the F-2B category. You would assume that this message would serve to deter LPR applicants from naturalization as it increases the waiting time for the beneficiary child. However, the Child Protection Act counteracts this negative effect by allowing the son or daughter to opt out of this automatic conversion to first preference. Simply put, there is little benefit in naturalizing the applicant if the only goal is to promote the child to a better rank. Of course, naturalization brings with it many other rights and benefits that are independent of family immigration.

IsBulletinsfor February 1994 indicated that Mexicans who had emigrated in the F-1 category were valid if their priority date was before January 22, 1993. Today that date has been moved to August 1, 1997. This means that the category has only advanced by 4 years and 6 months over the past 25 years, or an average of 2 months/year. He still has another 22 years to climbBulletinsto become current, which at this rate would take about 122 years [22 ÷ (4.5 ÷ 25)]. If we instead base our estimate on the delinquency numbers of Mexicans entering the F-1 category, they may wait about 64 years to catch up (104,251 ÷ 1,638). This allows us to estimate the waiting time for unmarried Mexican sons and daughters of US citizens or LPRs between the ages of 64 and 122. Even if we use the lower number, it is rare for the applicant to be alive when the son or daughter immigrates and this assumes the beneficiary remains unmarried.

In the same example, the son or daughter would get married, which would automatically turn the petition into a third preference and make things decidedly worse. whileBulletinsfor February 2019 it shows only 19 months difference between the F-1 and F-3 categories for Mexico, don't be fooled. If you know Mexico's current visa requirements (205,277) and limit per country (1,638) and apply the formula, you would find that the waiting time for Mexicans in the F-3 category is 125 years (205,277 ÷ 1,638). Applying the same analysis, you would also find that the F-4 category (siblings of US citizens) is approximately 160 years behind Mexicans (727,289 ÷ 4,555). If you knew that, would you still encourage your client to file the application? ?

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Any professional should consult the latest DOSAnnual Report on Immigrant Visa ApplicantsIdentify current arrears for each country in each category. Then do the math using the formula described in this article to get a realistic picture of how long a client will have to wait for the priority date of a claim filed today to become current. Customers deserve to know how long they can wait for a visa in their preferred category to become available. While this information prevents some clients from proceeding with their petitions, it allows you to practice immigration law with reasonable acumen and integrity. After the State Department released those reports, it let the ghost out of the box. It should no longer be acceptable practice to continue to claim ignorance or refuse to predict visa availability.


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