The new fiscal year began on October 1, and with it came the annual infusion of visa numbers allocated to the various preference categories that comprise the system for immigrant visa availability under U.S. immigration law. Recently, Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the State Department’s Visa Control and Reporting Division, provided his analysis of current trends and future projections beyond the basic visa availability updates provided in the monthly Visa Bulletin.

On the employment-based preference side, where there are 140,000 visas allocated annually, backlogs have plagued the system for years and years, in part because not only is the principal foreign national counted against the numbers of visas allocated but also dependent family members. (About 45 percent of the overall numbers are used by principals). Oppenheim reports that the worldwide employment-based third preference (EB-3) (for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers) will move faster in the coming months, as will EB-3 India. But, retrogression for Indian nationals who are eligible for EB-2 (members of professions holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability) appears to be imminent, and could happen as early as November with a cut-off date in 2005. Once this happens, EB-2 India is not likely to advance again until June 2015. A major factor in this anticipated retrogression is the large volume of EB-3 to EB-2 upgrades for Indian-born applicants. The wait for employment-based immigrant visas for India continues to be long — five to eleven years. The Philippines, another severely backlogged country, is however experiencing lower demand. The cut-off date for the EB-3 and “Other Worker” categories is now the same as it is worldwide, 10/01/2011.

Mr. Oppenheim also reports that the EB-4 preference category, used by Special Immigrants — which includes G-4s applying for green cards, special juvenile immigrants, religious workers, certain Iraqis, and broadcasters, among others — could have a cut-off date of August or September of each year going forward.  In practice, this will mean that these intending immigrants will have to wait one to two months to file their cases if they wait to the end of the fiscal year.

EB-5 immigrant investor visas, which have become increasingly popular, for the first time became “unavailable” for Chinese nationals in the final month of the fiscal year ending September 30.  The category is now current. This marked the first time since 1990, when the EB-5 category was first established, that EB-5 visas were unavailable for any country and the first time for the Chinese. No other country was affected by the backlog. Oppenheim predicts that the EB-5 category for China will remain “current” through May or June 2015.  This prediction is based on the assumption that USCIS will continue to issue approvals of EB-5 petitions at the current rate, as well as an assumption that a significant portion of the more than 5,000 applicants with approved EB-5 petitions at the National Visa Center (NVC) will come forward to be processed. Thereafter, Chinese nationals should expect significant backlogs in this visa category, which could impact dependent children who turn 21 during the pendency of the case.  It is expected that all other countries will remain current for the foreseeable future.

On the family side, Mr. Oppenheim reports that the family-based second preference (F-2) (immigrant visa petitions for spouses and children, and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents) will see forward movement. He advised that the F-2 category will continue to move about one month per month.  F-4 (siblings of US citizens) continues to be significantly backlogged, with the current wait 12 years and more than 20 years for the Philippines.