The Immigrant Visa (IV) Control System consists of the administration of Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provisions concerning the numerical limitations on annual US immigrant visa issuance.
At the beginning of each month, the Visa Office (VO) receives a report from each US consular post around the world listing totals of documentarily qualified immigrant visa applicants in categories subject to numerical limitation. Cases are grouped by foreign state chargeability, preference and priority date. No names are reported. During the first week of each month, the Visa Office tabulates documentarily qualified immigrant visa demand.
The Visa Office subdivides the annual preference and foreign state limitations specified by the INA into monthly allotments. Each month, the VO compares the totals of documentarily qualified applicants reported by US consulates with the immigrant visa numbers available for the next regular allotment. In determining how many numbers are available, the VO must consider several variables, including: past number use; estimates of future number use and return rates; and estimates of USCIS demand based on cut-off date movements. Once the VO considers these variables, they establish the cut-off dates and allocate numbers to reported applicants in order of their priority dates, oldest priority dates first.
If the numbers in a particular category are sufficient to satisfy all reported documentarily qualified immigrant visa demand, that category is considered “Current.” For example: If the monthly allocation target is 3,000, but there is demand for only 1,000 applicants, the category is “Current.”
Whenever the total of documentarily qualified applicants in a category exceeds the supply of numbers available for allotment for the particular month, that category is considered to be “oversubscribed,” and the VO establishes a visa availability cut-off date for that category. The Cut-Off Date is the Priority Date of the first documentarily qualified applicant who could NOT be accommodated for an immigrant visa number. For example: If the monthly target is 3,000, and there is demand for 8,000 applicants, then the VO must establish a Cut-Off date so that only 3,000 numbers would be allocated. In such a case, the Cut-Off number would be the Priority Date of the 3,001st applicant.
Only individuals with priority dates EARLIER than a cut-off date are entitled to allotment of an immigrant visa number. The cut-off dates are the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd of a month, since VO groups demand for numbers under these dates. (Priority Dates of the 1st through 7th of a month are grouped under the 1st, the 8th through the 14th under the 8th, etc.) On or about the 8th of each month, the VO attempts to establish cut-off dates for the following month. The VO then immediately transmits cut-off dates to consular posts and USCIS, and also publishes cut-off dates in the Visa Bulletin and online at the Consular Affairs Web site (www.travel.state.gov). The VO then transmits visa allotments for use during that month. USCIS requests visa allotments for adjustment of status cases only when all other case processing has been completed.
Normally, a Priority Date is the filing date of an application for immigrant status.
Allotment is the allocation of an immigrant visa number to a US consular office or to USCIS. This number may be used for immigrant visa issuance or adjustment of status to permanent residence (green card status).
Ordinarily, an immigrant is chargeable for visa purposes to the numerical limitation for the foreign state or dependent area of that immigrant’s place of birth. Children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) or spouses accompanying or following to join a principal immigrant are exceptions to prevent the separation of family members. Other exceptions may include applicants born in the US or in a foreign state in which neither parent was a native or resident. Alternate chargeability is desirable when the visa cut-off date for the foreign state of a parent or spouse is more advantageous than that of the applicant’s foreign state.
For example, if person born in India (a country with a significant immigrant visa backlog) has an approved employment-based immigrant petition, but his spouse was born in the United Arab Emirates (UAE–which has no immigrant visa backlog at all), that applicant can take advantage of his spouse’s chargeability to avoid the extremely long wait for individuals born in India.
Documentarily Qualified means that an applicant has obtained all documents specified by the consular officer as sufficient to meet formal visa application requirements, and has completed all necessary processing procedures of the consular office.
Applicants entitled to immigrant status become documentarily qualified at their own initiative and convenience. By no means has every applicant with a Priority Date earlier than a prevailing Cut-Off date been processed for final visa action. On the contrary, visa allotments are made only on the basis of the total applicants reported documentarily qualified each month. Demand for immigrant visa numbers can fluctuate from one month to another, with the inevitable impact on cut-off dates.
If an applicant is reported documentarily qualified, but allocation of an immigrant visa number for that person is not possible due to a visa availability Cut-Off date, VO records that demand and makes an allocation as soon as the applicable Cut-Off Date advances beyond the applicant’s Priority Date. It is not necessary to report such applicant a second time.
Visa numbers are always allotted for all documentarily qualified applicants with a Priority Date before the relevant Cut-Off date, as long as the case had been reported to VO in time to be included in their monthly calculation of visa availability. Failure of visa number receipt by the overseas processing office could mean that the request was not dispatched in time to reach VO for the monthly allocation cycle, or that information on the request was incomplete or inaccurate (e.g., incorrect Priority Date).
Allocations to Foreign Service posts outside the regular monthly cycle are possible in emergency or exceptional cases, but only at the request of the office processing the case. Note that should retrogression of a Cut-Off Date be announced, VO can honor extraordinary requests for additional numbers only if the applicant’s Priority Date is earlier than the retrogressed Cut-Off Date.
Not all numbers allocated are actually used for immigrant visa issuance. Some are returned to VO and reincorporated into the pool of numbers available for later allocation during the fiscal year. The rate of return of unused numbers may fluctuate from month to month, just as demand may fluctuate. Lower returns mean fewer numbers available for subsequent reallocation. Fluctuations can cause Cut-Off Date movement to slow, stop, or even retrogress. Retrogression is particularly possible near the end of the fiscal year as immigrant visa issuance approaches annual limitations.
The annual per-country limitation of 7% on immigrant visa issuance is a cap or ceiling. Visa issuances to any single country may not exceed this limitation. Applicants compete for visas primarily on a worldwide basis. The country limitation is in place to avoid monopolization of virtually all annual immigrant visa limitation by applicants from only a few countries.
However, this limitation is not a quota to which any particular country is entitled. A portion of the immigrant numbers provided to the Family Second preference category (F2) are exempt from this per-country cap. The American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21) removed the per-country limit in any calendar quarter in which overall applicant demand for Employment-Based immigrant visa numbers is less than the total of such immigrant visa numbers available.
When immigrant visa demand by documentarily qualified applicants from a particular country exceeds the amount of numbers available under the annual numerical limitation, that country is considered to be oversubscribed. Oversubscription may require the VO to establish a Cut-Off Date earlier than that which applies to a particular visa category on a worldwide basis. The prorating of numbers for an oversubscribed country follows the same percentages specified for the division of the worldwide annual limitation among the preferences. (Note that visa availability cut-off dates for oversubscribed areas may not be later than worldwide cut-off dates, if any, for the respective preferences.)