As published in the Immigration Daily on October 12, 2022
The last two years have been difficult for family preference cases, especially where the beneficiaries are overseas as scheduled interviews have been few and final visa availability dates largely static with the exception of Mexico. In the meantime, the employment categories have prospered under the rule that any family-based visas not used in one fiscal year are transferred over to the employment-based quota limit in the next fiscal year. The normal allotment of employment-based cases is 140,000, but in FY-2021 reached 262,288 and in the just concluded FY-2022 281,507. That means that in FY-2020 ending on 9/30/20, 122,288 family preference visas were left on the floor while in the year ending 9/30/21, 141,507 family preference visas were left unused. For FY-2023, the Department of State has projected employment-based visa usage to be approximately 200,000, meaning that 60,000 family-based visas are expected to have been left on the cutting room floor in FY-2022.
The effect of pandemic fears restricting the number of interviews at consulates and embassies and State Department priorities in light of staffing losses have checked the ability of US consulates and embassies to process family-based preference cases in which the beneficiaries are largely overseas as opposed to employment-based situations in which the beneficiaries are mostly in the US and working under temporary visas. Immigrant visa issuance was initially hamstrung by the Diplomacy Strong policy instituted in the early days of the pandemic which initially dictated a temporary shutdown and then visa services reopening on a limited basis post-by-post beginning on 7/15/20. In September 2021, the Department issued a memorandum setting prioritization of family preference categories as third tier priorities beneath tier 1 (Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases, certain special immigrant visas, and emergency cases determined on a case-by-case basis) and tier 2 (immediate relative, fiancé(e) and returning resident visas). In the 9/13/21 “Immigrant Visa Prioritization,” memo, the Department made clear that “This prioritization plan instructs posts to maximize their limited resources to accommodate as many immediate relative and fiancé(e) cases as possible with the goal of, at least 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.”
What are the chances that we will see the family preference classes make some moves forward or backward worldwide in FY-2023 (10/1/22 – 9/30/23)? So far, in terms of visa chart movement in October and November, there is no movement at all except for advances for Mexico. A quick synopsis of family-based movement in the latest visa chart is the following:
The November 2022 visa bulletin just came out and held no surprises and hardly any movement. FB final action dates chart: No movement except for Mexico F-2B advancing two months to 6/1/01, F-3 two weeks to 11/1/97, and F-4 two months to 8/1/00. FB dates of filing chart: Again, no movement except for Mexico F-1 advancing one year to 12/1/02, F-2B three months three weeks to 1/1/02, F-3 two months to 6/15/01, and F-4 two weeks to 4/1/01.
However, there appears to be some hope as the State Department hiring of consular staff is going well and in a 10/7/22 webinar between the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Department of State, DOS representatives affirmed that they will be fully staffed by the end of 2023. The question of whether family preference visa interviews and issuances will be attended to will likely come down to the question of priorities. In what direction will the new hires be pointed? It will not only be competition among the three tiers, but other parts of consular services that draw the attention of consular staff. DOS representatives spoke of competing interests such as nonimmigrant visas including visitors and students which help the economy and pointed to good work being done with diversity visas.
In light of the constant advancement of the Mexico immigrant visas in past months, it is possible that the immigrant visa unit there has taken liberties with the prioritization plan. If so, other immigrant visa issuing posts may be encouraged to move in the same direction
Just looking at the state of affairs in family preference categories and number of unused visas, however, attention must be given to interviewing qualified applicants, issuing immigrant visas, evaluating visa demand, and then moving the categories forwards or backwards just as in pre-pandemic days. In looking through past visa bulletins, the family preference final action dates have not changed and have sat stagnant except for Mexico since September 2021, one year and two months ago. It is almost as if the State Department has set up a placeholder final action dates chart for family preferences, which has become more embarrassing month by month.
In light of the restocking of consular staff and hopefully the immigrant visa sections, the Department of State should feel it appropriate sometime in this fiscal year to move the worldwide family preference dates in a meaningful manner.