05 May 2021 DOS Provides Update on Immigrant Visa Prioritization
It can be extremely frustrating for anyone outside the U.S. waiting for their immigrant visa interview, and for their family members in the U.S., anxiously awaiting their arrival. You have endured delays, interview cancellations, and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns and shutdowns, and by former Pres. Trump’s immigration ban.
The main question on everyone’s mind is when can they expect their immigrant visa interview to finally be scheduled at the Embassy?
On April 30, 2021, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) issued new guidance as to how embassies will prioritize the various immigrant visa categories. They will be using a tiered approach to triage immigrant visa applications, based on the category of immigrant visa as the various embassies resume and expand visa processing.
The DOS empathized with visa applicants, recognizing that, “petitioners and applicants in the immigrant visa process are more than just numbers. We [DOS] acknowledge the stress and hardships they have borne during the past year of reduced operating capacity as a result of COVID and necessary measures taken to protect health and safety or to comply with local requirements, as well as COVID-related limitations on their travel or visa issuance.” DOS further recognizes “the importance of each immigrant visa category.”
However, the health and safety of embassy personnel, and that of individuals seeking immigration benefits is paramount. The volume and type of visa cases each post (or Embassy) will process continues to depend on local conditions, including restrictions on movement and gathering imposed by the host country governments. Further, as a result of COVID-19, social distancing and other safety measures will reduce the number of applicants consular sections can process in a single day.
In prioritizing cases for immigrant visa processing, DOS notes that the “guiding principle on which we have based immigrant visa prioritization is that family reunification is a clear priority of the U.S. government’s immigration policy… Specifically, the Department’s prioritization relied on clear direction from Congress that the Department must adopt a policy of prioritizing immediate relative visa applicants and K-1 fiancé(e) visas of U.S. citizens, followed by family preference immigrant visa applicants.” Sadly, employment-based cases are given the lowest priority.
The priority for immigrant visa processing is as follows:
Tier 1: Immediate relative intercompany adoption visas, age out cases, and certain special immigrant visas, such as for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government.
Tier 2: Immediate relative visas (spouse or minor child of U.S. citizen), fiancé(e) visas, and returning resident visas.
Tier 3: Family preference immigrant visas and special immigrant visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad; and finally
Tier 4: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas.
DOS recognizes that with this four-tiered approach, “visa applicants, particularly those in tiers 3 and 4, will face continued delays.” And while priority is given to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, embassies do plan to “schedule and adjudicate “some” cases in tier 3 for each month.” In other words, it could be possible that a handful of employment-based cases could be scheduled for an interview, but spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens will go first.
It appears this prioritization is just another way of bringing back Trump’s immigration ban. If you recall, the reason for that immigration ban was because of high unemployment in the U.S., and Trump did not want to flood the labor market with new immigrants coming to the U.S. to take away those jobs. In addition, even during the ban, embassies continued to process immediate relative cases. By placing employment-based cases at the bottom of the list, would have the same effect as Trump’s immigration ban – preventing people from coming to the U.S. to be able to work.
We will continue to monitor the situation at U.S. embassies and keep you updated on reopenings and other developments in connection with scheduling interviews.
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