What is the Visa
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Immigration to the United States is limited in most immigration categories is limited by numerical ("quota") restrictions. The Visa Bulletin is a monthly statement by the U.S. Department of State of visa numbers available in specific categories for all countries. In the visa bulletin, "C" means a category is current. Current is a term of art that refers to the fact that the U.S. INS or consular post is currently "calling" those visa petitions with a date on or before the "current" date. A date against a category means only petitions with priority dates shown are being allocated visas.
relatives (spouse/minor children/ parents, not including brothers
and sisters) of U.S. citizens are exempt from any numerical
restrictions). Accordingly, they do not have to wait for
Generally speaking there are three (3) classes under which a person may immigrate to the U.S.:
Numbers of visa within this category are allocated as follows:
First preference (FS-1): Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of United States citizens: 23,400 per fiscal year, plus any visas not needed for the fourth preference category.
Second preference (FS-2): Spouses, children, and unmarried sons and unmarried daughters of permanent resident aliens: 114,200 plus any number by which the worldwide level exceeds 226,000, plus any visas not used for the first preference. At least 77% of the second preference visas must be issued to spouses and children.
Note: The Second preference category is divided into "2A" (spouses and children under 21 of lawful permanent residents) and "2B" (married children over 21 of lawful permanent resident aliens).
Third preference (FS-3): Married sons and married daughters over 21 of United States citizens: 234,000 visas plus any not used by the first and second preferences.
Fourth preference (FS-4): Brothers and sisters of
United States citizens (citizens must be at least 21 years old):
65,000 visas plus any not used for the first, second or third
Numbers of visa within this category are allocated as follows:
Employment Based Category One (EB-1 or Priority Workers): Aliens with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers and certain multinational executives and managers: 40,000 visas a year plus any not used for categories (4) and (5) below.
Employment Based Category Two (EB-2 is for Advanced
Degree Professionals): Aliens who are members of the professions
holding advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability in the
sciences, arts or business: 40,000 visas a year, plus any not
used by Priority Workers
Employment Based Category Three (EB-3 is for Skilled Workers, Professionals and Other Workers): 40,000 visas a year, plus any not used for the first two classes. Only 10,000 of the visas, however, may go to ``Other Workers'' (i.e., unskilled workers).
Employment Based Category Four (EB-4 is for Certain
Special Immigrants: 10,000 visas a year, with no more than 5,000
being allocated to religious workers.
Employment Based Category Five (EB-5 is for Alien investors or entrepreneurs): 10,000 visas a year, of which at least 3,000 go to alien entrepreneurs setting up businesses in a ``targeted employment area.''
The permanent diversity program established in
the 1990 Act went into effect in fiscal year 1994, allocating
55,000 immigrant visas annually based upon a visa lottery.
Persons from certain selected countries are eligible to
participate in the lottery. See Diversity
The priority date that a
prospective immigrant receives determines a person's place
in line (e.g., similar to taking a number in a
store) for a numerically limited immigrant visa. Generally,
the priority date is the date the immigrant visa petition
requesting preference classification is accepted for INS
|For Category||Priority Date is|
|All Family Preference||The date the U.S. Government (INS) accepts the petition (Form I-130) as having been filed.|
|EB-3 and EB-2 (where a labor certification is required)||The date of filing the labor certification with State Employment Service Agency|
|EB-1 and National Intetest Waivers (a subcategory of EB-2, where a labor certification is not required)||The date the U.S. Government (INS) accepts the petition (Form I-140) as having been filed.|
The Visa Bulletin issued by
the U.S. Department of State provides availability of visas on a
per country basis and within each preference category. The
Visa Bulletin is issued monthly by the State Department, usually
between the 8th and 15th day each month. It is very difficult to
estimate the likely waiting time before an immigrant visa becomes
available, but certain patterns MAY be discernible based on the
past visa availability. A reveiw of the Visa Bulletin over
a period of several months may help to approximate how long it
may take for the applicant's priority date to be reached.
In many categories, visa numbers tend to get clogged up towards
the end of the U.S. government fiscal year (October 1 through
September 30). Usually, the U.S. Department's projections,
also stated in the Visa Bulletin can be a good guide.
Within the U.S. Department of State, Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division controls the allocation of visa numbers for preference category immigrant visa applicants. It compiles visa statistics and advises consular posts on the completion of their own visa statistical and workload reports. It projects visa availability and workload trends and publishes ``Visa Bulletin,'' which announces visa preference category priority dates and gives general information on changes in visa policy. It also publishes the "Annual Report of the Visa Office,"' which summarizes statistics on visa operations worldwide.
All consular offices and INS
district offices submit monthly reports to the Immigrant Visa
Control Division. In some instances, particular consulates
may find that heavy workloads or other considerations may delay
consideration of applications for immigrant visas, and in such
cases the consulate may establish its own administrative waiting
Certain employment-based categories require certification from the U.S. Department of Labor that there are no U.S. workers available to perform the work that is offered to the alien on a permanent basis. This certification is required for: (1) all EB-3 preference petitions; and (2) most EB-2 preference petitions, except where the EB-2 petition is filed as a "National Interest Waiver." The labor certification process can take a long time, sometimes more than two to three years, depending upon the U.S. Department of Labor Region and the state level processing times.