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Mar 10, 2008
Visa Allocation Guide
- Crispin Aranda Email this article

A lot of our readers – print and web, on -  ask: “Why do Visa Numbers move back and forth, sometimes regressing to about two years?”


They are referring of course to the priority dates issued by the State Department on its Visa Bulletin.  For July 2007 for example, all preference categories for the Philippines moved back instead of forward.  Preference categories are those subject to numerical restrictions (quotas). Immediate relatives of US citizens are not quota-based and do not belong to the Preference categories.


When the stated date in a specific preference category moves back (officially called “retrogression”) the visa applicant would be waiting longer for the issuance of the visa, instead of being scheduled for an immigrant visa interview at an earlier date.


The State Department’s Visa Bulletin for the months of May, in the years 2006 and 2005 is a good example of how visa movement not only stops but goes backward


                        2006               2005                  Movement

     F1                     8/22/91        12/15/90       8 mos. 1 wk.

          F2A                   3/01/02         1/08/01         1 yr. 2 mos.      

          F2B                   7/08/96         10/15/95       8 mos. 3 wks.

          F3                     7/01/88         8/01/90        -2 yrs. 11 months

          F4                               10/08/93       11/22/82       10 mos. 3 wks.

     E3                     5/01/01        4/01/02        -11 months

          Others                10/01/00      7/01/01        - 9 months



Why the Retrogression?


The brief guide on visa allocation should shed light, but not relief to our readers:


Worldwide Allocation and Per Country Limits. The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the overall yearly visa allocations in the Family-sponsored (480,000) and Employment-based categories (140,000), in addition to the Diversified Visa categories (50,000 starting 1999).  Each country’s visa allocation is approximately 25,620 a year, regardless of category.  Applicants from each country are racing against each other towards their own per country limit and towards the worldwide quota. When a country uses up its own allocation, no other visa numbers would be assigned until the next fiscal year (starts October 1st and ends September 30) or if other countries are not able to use up their own allocation for the current year.


Allocation Formula for Categories:


Family-sponsored  - 480,000 minus the number of visas issued to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and aliens paroled into the United States,, plus unused employment-based visas.


Immediate Relatives- No quota, but they share the 480,000 until there is only 226,2000 visas left.


Employment-based- 140,000 plus whatever is unused in the Family-sponsored categories.


How Visas Are Allocated. An immigrant visa is issued to an applicant if one is available.  The availability of a visa is controlled by the State Department through the Visa Office, which maintains centralized control of visa numbers and allocation.  The Visa Office determines the number of visa numbers available for each month through (1) reports from the National Visa Center and/or consular offices worldwide and (2) reports from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) - of applicants who are in the United States and are applying for adjustment of status in the U.S., instead of applying for their immigrant visas at consular posts.


Important:  Those in the U.S. including TNTs, are competing with those in the Philippines applying for their immigrant visas.  The more TNTs there are in the US whose priority dates are current, the less visas become available to those in the Philippines since both are availing of fixed available visa numbers for a specific fiscal year (25,620 for the Philippines).


Unused and Recaptured Visas. If a country does not use up its authorized visa allocation in any given month, the unused visas are returned to the Visa Office for redistribution.  Other visas are recaptured if applicants (a) do not apply for their available visas; (b) do not apply for admission after issuance of their immigrant visas; (c) are deemed inadmissible at a port of entry when applying for admission as an immigrant.  If the worldwide quota is not yet reached, the unused, returned or recaptured visas are then given to applicants from other countries with the earliest priority dates and have completed their documents as well as paid the visa fees.


The monthly reports submitted by consular posts worldwide and the USCIS to the Visa Office indicate the number of documentarily qualified beneficiaries (persons with approved petitions from family members, employers or self-petition). The Visa Office then gives a visa allocation for the month to consular posts and the INS/BCIS for assignment and distribution.


Visa Numbers in the Philippines;  Alien Numbers in the U.S.  Upon receiving the Visa Office allocation, the National Visa Center (NVC)  assigns an immigrant visa case number to an applicant whose priority date is approaching the cut-off date for a given month.  The same is true with the USCIS.  The agency accepts the adjustment of status application, gives the applicant an alien number and sets an interview date as the visa numbers become available.


Who Gets Interviewed First. Visa allocation and issuance are determined by two factors: (a) priority date and (b) completion of documents as well as payment of visa fees.  Those with earlier priority dates normally are scheduled for interviews after informing the NVC / consular post that they have all the required documents.  However, delay in processing such as insufficient or incomplete answer on forms, delay in submitting the completed forms could cause delay in visa scheduling and issuance.


Priority Date. Visas become available as the priority dates become current. The priority date is the date in which the USCIS acknowledges receipt of the family-based petition.  For employment-based immigrant visa petitions, the priority date is the date by which the labor certification application was received by the Department of Labor.


Cut-Off Availability Date. Visas are issued to applicants whose priority dates are within the cut-off availability date for the current month. The cut-off availability date is set when the number of visa applicants given reported by consular posts and USCIS offices, exceed the visa allocation set by the Visa Office (NVC) based on its monitoring of visa availability worldwide.  There are a number of countries where demand almost always exceeds supply. These are the Philippines, Mexico and India.  The other countries do not have a backlog. The only good news is that the Employment-based categories for the Philippines are all current.


To illustrate in an earlier occurrence:  In July 2003, the cut-off availability date for the Philippines in the F1 category is March 15, 1989. For the F3, it is Jan. 1, 1988.  This means the Visa Office not only held off on giving out new numbers, but also suspended the processing of cases where visa numbers had already been assigned.  Processing will resume when there are available visas. Relief should be two month away: when the new fiscal year begins (October 1, 2003) and a new set of 25,620 visas becomes available again.

Retrogression.  In any quarter of any fiscal year, the Visa Office may make reasonable estimates of the anticipated number of visas to be issued during any quarter of any fiscal year in each of the preference categories.  If the estimate far exceeds the actual visa available for issuance, the cut-off availability retrogresses.


If a specific country or countries with their own 25,620 visa allocations are not able to use up their quota, the unused visas are returned to the NVC visa pool for distribution to other countries that have used up their own visa numbers.



Crispin R. Aranda is host and producer of “Amerika, Atbp.,” the worlds first and only interactive weekly TV show on visas, immigration matters and migrant affairs. “Amerika, Atbp.” Is shown nationwide on ABC 5 every Saturday, 2:30 to 3:30 pm; and internationally on Mabuhay Channel thru Dish Network in the U.S.; Rogers Cable in Canada and Access TV in Japan.

You may contact Crispin R. Aranda at  or call the Immigrant Visa Center for visa questions. IVC main office is located at  the Ortigas Center 634-8717or if in San Francisco, California call IVC counsel, Atty. Norma Molinar at (415) 834-1052.

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