Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Understanding Visa Bulletin Cut-Off Date Determination


Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | , , , ,

Role of DOS
The State Department (DOS) is responsible for the allocation of numerically limited immigrant visa numbers under the authority granted by section 203 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). These visa numbers are allocated based on congressionally mandated preferences that assign an overall total, limits for each category and per country limits within each category.

The Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division’s main responsibility is the administration of the complex series of annual numerical limitations on immigrant visas, subdivided by preference category and country, which are set by the INA. Where demand exists, DOS goal is to have the issuance level come as close as possible to 100% of the numbers available each year without exceeding the limits that Congress has established. DOS also want to maintain a steady flow of applications throughout the year to ensure appropriate use of government resources and to provide good customer service to applicants. Over the past years, DOS have a proven record of using over 95 percent of the annual worldwide numerical limit.

Role of USCIS
The Department works closely with United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) on data exchange to allow for maximum use of numbers under the annual limits, and in a stable, predictable manner. This is extremely important in the Employment based categories, where USCIS currently uses approximately 90 percent of all available visa numbers. Section 203(g) of the INA directs the Secretary of State to make reasonable estimates of anticipated number use in order to maximize number use under annual limits. When making such estimates it is necessary to take into consideration a number of variables based on the best information which is available when those estimates are being made. Should there be a change which could not be anticipated it can have an impact on number use. This makes the determination of the monthly cut-off date particularly difficult at the end of the fiscal year since there is little if any time to make any necessary adjustments. While DOS always strive to reach 100% goal of the numbers allocated, increasing percentage above 95 percent is difficult given that DOS is statutorily barred from exceeding the annual limits.


DOS working with USCIS, Consulates and Embassies
On any given day, immigrant visas are issued at about 130 embassies and consulates overseas. Adjustments of status (which use the same numbers) are granted at about 90 - 100 domestic USCIS offices. The State Department tracks visa number usage and requests from consular sections around the world and USCIS. On a monthly basis the Visa Office determines the number of visas which can be allocated in each visa category and to each country on a worldwide basis. The process developed for managing the numbers throughout the year requires that numbers are made available by adjusting the cutoff date for each category and each country on a monthly basis. Cutoff dates for all countries except China, India, Mexico and the Philippines are currently the same every month in every category. Because demand for numbers exceeds annual per-country numerical limits for these four countries, they have their own cutoff dates in some categories.

The monthly visa bulletin published by the Department and available on website at www.Travel.State.Gov explains the allocation of visa numbers by dates, the laws and the per country and per category limits.

As stated previously, DOS goal is to come as close as possible to the annual limit without exceeding it. The Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division maintains a database containing workload statistics for immigrant visas issued at Foreign Service posts worldwide, and adjustment of status cases at USCIS. DOS authorize numbers for USCIS applications as USCIS request them, usually on a daily basis.

DOS in past has received several inquiries about the allocation of Employment-Based Second Preference visa numbers to India and China. DOS want to make clear that India is not receiving all of the extra numbers. They are also available to China where the applicant’s priority date was earlier than the posted cut-off date and are also available to applicants in any other country with a current priority date and for which the interview is completed and all required clearances received. These numbers are being made available when current indications are that demand from “all other countries” will not be sufficient to utilize all available Employment First and Second preference numbers. Such numbers will be made available, as visa numbers are always provided, in priority date order (the date petition to accord immigrant status was filed with USCIS). India does have a larger number of older petitions pending and therefore is likely to receive a larger number of these visa numbers than China. The Department’s policy of making the extra numbers available in priority date order is mandated by Section 203(e) of the INA. This allocation of numbers based on priority date means that China and India Second preference applicants will be subject to exactly the same cut-off date.


VISA NUMBER Availability and Cut-Off Date Determination for Visa Bulletin
The Department of State is responsible for administering the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) relating to the numerical limitations on immigrant visa issuances. It is a process that has evolved through the years and will continue to do so as DOS use the best technologies to improve communication with posts, applicants and colleagues at USCIS.

At the beginning of each month, the Visa Office (VO) receives a report from each consular post listing totals of documentarily qualified immigrant visa applicants in categories subject to numerical limitation. Cases are grouped in three different categories: 1) foreign state chargeability, 2) preference and 3) priority date.

Foreign state chargeability for visa purposes refers to the fact that an immigrant is chargeable to the numerical limitation for the foreign state or dependent area in which the immigrant's place of birth is located. Exceptions are provided for a child (unmarried and under 21 years of age) or spouse accompanying or following to join a principal to prevent the separation of family members or in a foreign state of 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.

Preference is the visa category that can be assigned as established by the Immigration and Nationality Act based on relationships to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Family based immigration falls under two basic categories: unlimited and limited. Preferences established by law for the limited category are:

Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their minor children, if any.

Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.

Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children.

Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of United States citizens and their spouses and minor children provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years of age.

Employment-based immigration also includes preferences; all of them are subject to a limitation.

The Priority Date is normally the date on which the petition to accord the applicant immigrant status was filed, normally with U.S. Citizenship and immigration Service.

Visa Bulletin Cut-Off Date Determination
The Department of State Visa Office subdivides the annual preference and foreign state limitations specified by the INA into monthly allotments. The totals of documentarily qualified applicants which have been reported to VO are compared each month with the numbers available for the next regular allotment. The determination of how many numbers are available requires consideration of several of variables, including: past number use; estimates of future number use and return rates; and estimates of Citizenship and Immigration Service demand based on cut-off date movements. Once this is done, the cut-off dates are established and numbers are allocated to reported applicants in order of their priority dates, the oldest dates first.

If there are sufficient numbers in a particular category to satisfy all reported documentarily qualified demand, the category is considered "Current". For example: If the monthly allocation target is 10,000 and DOS only have 5,000 applicants the category can be "Current”.

Whenever the total of documentarily qualified applicants in a category exceeds the supply of numbers available for allotment for the particular month, the category is considered to be "oversubscribed" and a visa availability cut-off date is established. The cut-off date is the priority date of the first documentarily qualified applicant who could not be accommodated for a visa number. For example, if the monthly target is 10,000 and DOS have 25,000 applicants, then the goal would be to establish a cut-off date so that only 10,000 numbers would be allocated. In this case, the cut-off in the ideal world would be the priority date of the 10,001st applicant.

Only persons with a priority date earlier than a cut-off date are entitled to allotment of a visa number. Possible cut-off dates are the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd of any given month, since the Visa Office groups demand for numbers under these dates. (Priority dates of the first through seventh of a month are grouped under the 1st, the eighth through the fourteenth under the 8th, etc.)

The Visa Office attempts to establish the cut-off dates for the following month on or about the 8th of each month. The dates are immediately transmitted to consular posts abroad and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and also published in the Visa Bulletin and online at the Bureau of Consular Affairs Web site (www.travel.state.gov).

Visa allotments for use during that month are transmitted to consular posts. USCIS requests visa allotments for adjustment of status cases only when all other case processing has been completed.


CLARIFICATION OF SOME FREQUENTLY MISUNDERSTOOD POINTS
Applicants entitled to immigrant status become “documentarily qualified” to apply for an immigrant visa (meaning they have all their documents necessary for a visa interview and, if approved, for issuance) 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 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 a visa number is not possible because of a visa availability cut-off date, the demand is recorded at the Visa Office and an allocation is made as soon as the applicable cut-off date advances beyond the applicant's priority date. There is no need for such applicant to be reported 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 the Visa Office in time to be included in the 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 the Visa Office 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, the Visa Office 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 visa issuance; some are returned to VO and are 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 visa issuance approaches the annual limitations.

Per-country limit: The annual per-country limitation of 7% is a cap, which Visa issuances to any single country may not exceed. Applicants compete for visas primarily on a worldwide basis. The country limitation serves to avoid monopolization of virtually all the annual limitation by applicants from only a few countries. This limitation is not a quota to which any particular country is entitled, however. A portion of the numbers provided to the Family Second preference category is 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 visa numbers is less than the total of such numbers available.

Applicability of Section 202(e): When 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 establishment of a cut-off date which is 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.)


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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks CM for a great post, very detailed and informative. Thanks again...PK

Anonymous said...

These allocation rules were set years and years ago I presume. They seem to be too outdated. Isn't it time the DOS need a team of experts to analyze the Math behind all this and the supply/demand pattern that is here today? Looks like folks from AILA must raise their voice enough so the DOS makes some drastic changes here.
Or am I not making any sense at all here and way off in my thinking?
DOS has to realize that scores of people are from India, and they are PROFESSIONALS adding value to the economy and community here in the US. One doesnt have to look hard to realize the Indians have contributed to every sector of US economy.

Anonymous said...

Can you comment on abandoned cases. Some became impatient and went to other parts of the world and lived there permanently.

CM said...

@Anonymous Thank you PK. I am glad it was helpful.

CM said...

Only quick fix for coming years that we can expect is pre-registering of all I-485s so that no annual visa go wasted.

Anonymous said...

These allocation rules were set years and years ago I presume. They seem to be too outdated. Isn't it time the DOS need a team of experts to analyze the Math behind all this and the supply/demand pattern that is here today? Looks like folks from AILA must raise their voice enough so the DOS makes some drastic changes here.
Or am I not making any sense at all here and way off in my thinking?
DOS has to realize that scores of people are from India, and they are PROFESSIONALS adding value to the economy and community here in the US. One doesnt have to look hard to realize the Indians have contributed to every sector of US economy.

CM said...

As far as I know most of the people who abandoned cases are from EB3-India after getting frustrated from this wait. Others from ROW-M-P-C-I before PD July 2007 in majority have EADs. Only people who are left are post 2007 with PDs in 2008 and 2009. Few of these could have lost jobs but majority who had lost job in first case would not have filed GC because if they were let go or their company were in middle of going belly up automatically company would not have invested in GC. So I feel most of the abandoned cases will be in noise, few two-three thousands out of 200k pending cases. Only people I know are getting impatient are recent graduates and individuals with PD beyond 2010 who still have long road to go. IMHO, starting next year spillover may reduce tremendously as economy will be back to usual. Some glimpse of it can be seen from rising EB2-ROW demand. Only hope is EB1 and EB5. But EB1-C will pick up in a year or two especially on ROW side where most of the petitions are genuine. With today's USCIS announcement it looks like EB5 program will also be enhanced tremendously to attract and cater investors personally. All we can do is keep our finger crossed.

Anonymous said...

Can you comment on abandoned cases. Some became impatient and went to other parts of the world and lived there permanently.

Anonymous said...

Hi CM,
""""Only persons with a priority date earlier than a cut-off date are entitled to allotment of a visa number. Possible cut-off dates are the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd of any given month, since the Visa Office groups demand for numbers under these dates. (Priority dates of the first through seventh of a month are grouped under the 1st, the eighth through the fourteenth under the 8th, etc.)"""
Had a Question:
\My priority date : 09 March 2007
if the Monthly bulletin says : 08 March 2007

Will I be current or will i be able to submit my 1 -485 papers.

(reason : I'm asking is becuase your article above says that we can, but the first line of the paragraph says different.. I think i'm missing something here. your confirmation will be greatly appreciated)

As always , Thanks for all the work you do !!

CM said...

As you may know by now that only individuals before PD 08 March 2007 (PD until 07 March 2007) are allowed to file I-485.


Anonymous said...

Hi CM,
""""Only persons with a priority date earlier than a cut-off date are entitled to allotment of a visa number. Possible cut-off dates are the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd of any given month, since the Visa Office groups demand for numbers under these dates. (Priority dates of the first through seventh of a month are grouped under the 1st, the eighth through the fourteenth under the 8th, etc.)"""
Had a Question:
\My priority date : 09 March 2007
if the Monthly bulletin says : 08 March 2007

Will I be current or will i be able to submit my 1 -485 papers.

(reason : I'm asking is becuase your article above says that we can, but the first line of the paragraph says different.. I think i'm missing something here. your confirmation will be greatly appreciated)

As always , Thanks for all the work you do !!

Anonymous said...

Hi CM,
""""Only persons with a priority date earlier than a cut-off date are entitled to allotment of a visa number. Possible cut-off dates are the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd of any given month, since the Visa Office groups demand for numbers under these dates. (Priority dates of the first through seventh of a month are grouped under the 1st, the eighth through the fourteenth under the 8th, etc.)"""
Had a Question:
\My priority date : 09 March 2007
if the Monthly bulletin says : 08 March 2007

Will I be current or will i be able to submit my 1 -485 papers.

(reason : I'm asking is becuase your article above says that we can, but the first line of the paragraph says different.. I think i'm missing something here. your confirmation will be greatly appreciated)

As always , Thanks for all the work you do !!

question said...

This months bulletin lists EB2-I at 41,700. Does this mean there are 41,700 Priority Date + Consular Demand? What constitutes a 'documentarily qualified immigrant visa"??

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