The most common questions on my YouTube videos come from viewers asking when their priority dates are likely to be current. I wish I could answer this question, but nobody can predict visa number progression accurately. This article explains why.
U.S. immigration laws limit the number of immigrant visa (“green cards”) issued every year. There are annual limits based on a combination of
Some family-based immigrants are not subject to the numerical caps: immediate relatives (spouses, parents, and children under 21 of US citizens) are outside the preference category system. These applicants have no backlog and just need to wait for normal processing to be finished before they can be approved.
The annual limit for total number of legal immigrants is 675,000. This is the maximum allotment of visa numbers (green cards) per year, whether they are issued via Adjustment of Status in the US or at a consulate, and whether they are family-based or employment-based. There are far more visa applicants than numbers available, which is why there are backlogs in some categories and for some countries.
What Are The Family-Based Limits?
The total number of family-based immigrant visas that can be approved each year is 480,000. This includes Immediate Relatives, so the actual limit is 480,000 minus the total number of Immediate Relatives who became permanent residents in the previous fiscal year (as well as a few other groups), plus any unused employment preferences numbers in the preceding year. If the result comes out to be below 226,000, the annual limit will be set at 226,000, as required by law.
In other words, the MAXIMUM number of visas available to the family preference categories each year is 226,000, but it could be fewer if there is a high demand for Immediate Relative visas.
This 226,000 is divided among the different categories as follows:
What Are The Country Limits for Family Cases?
No country can get more than 7% of the total annual family-sponsored limits. So, if the total family limit is 226,000, the maximum number of immigrant visas for each country is 15,820 in all family categories.
75% of the 114,200 visas available to the F2A category are exempt from this per-country cap. These are listed as FX below. The numbers are divided among the preference categories as follows:
What Are The Employment-Based Limits?
The total annual limit for Fiscal year 2020 is 156,500..
This is subdivided as follows:
*The provisions of the Chinese Student Protection Act require that the China annual limit be reduced by 1,000 annually to compensate for cases processed under that legislation.
**The EW category is currently entitled to up to 10,000 of this total. Unused numbers can “fall-down” from E1 to E2 to E3. Unused numbers can “fall-up” from E4 and E5 to E1. That fact is taken into consideration when setting the monthly/annual targets for number use, and based on historical/recent patterns of number use.
What Are The Country Limits for Employment Cases?
No country can get more than 7% of the annual employment-sponsored limit in each preference category. So, if the total 2020 EB-2 limit is 44, 759, the maximum number of EB-2 immigrant visas for each country is 3,133.
How do I Calculate My Wait Time??
Every year the Department of State (DOS) releases a report on the number of immigrant visa applicants who are waiting for their priority dates to become current. The 2019 report is here.
You can see just how many people are waiting in line, and how long they have been waiting, to gauge how long the backlogs are in each category and for each country. This is still a very inexact science, because it is impossible to predict future demand. Also important is that this report only includes people waiting outside the US. About 80% of employment-based applicants apply for Adjustment of Status in the US, so these charts should not be used for employment cases.
Ashish is a permanent resident in the US. Ashish petitioned for his unmarried adult daughter, Meera, who is Indian. Meera is F-2B preference category.
Looking at the 2019 DOS report, we can see that the number of pending F-2B applicants worldwide is 282,551.
There are only 26,266 total visas available each year in the F-2B category.
There are three oversubscribed countries – Mexico, Dominican Republic, and the Philippines – that are at or above the 7% per-country (1,838 visas) cap.
The number of approved petitions in the F-2B category from the three oversubscribed countries total 194,927
With this information, we can make the following calculations:
The wait time could change if Ashish becomes a US citizen while priority date is backlogged, and/or if Meera marries.
Antonio is a US citizen. He filed for his sister, Tala, who is Filipino. Tala is F-4 preference category.
Again, looking at the 2019 DOS report
For a more detailed explanation of the visa allocation system, see
Immigrant visa statistics for prior years, in detail:
List of immigrant visa symbols:
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.