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Opinion

DOS provides update on immigrant visa prioritization

IMMIGRATION CORNER - Michael J. Gurfinkel - The Philippine Star

It can be extremely frustrating for anyone outside the US waiting for their immigrant visa interview, and for their family members in the US, anxiously awaiting their arrival. You have endured delays, interview cancellations and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns and shutdowns, and by former President 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US government.

Tier 2: Immediate relative visas (spouse or minor child of US citizen), fiancé(e) visas and returning resident visas.

Tier 3: Family preference immigrant visas and special immigrant visas for certain employees of the US 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 US 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 US 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 US, and Trump did not want to flood the labor market with new immigrants coming to the US to take away those jobs. In addition, even during the ban, embassies continued to process immediate relative cases. 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 US to be able to work.

We will continue to monitor the situation at US embassies and keep you updated on reopenings and other developments in connection with scheduling interviews.

WEBSITE: www.gurfinkel.com

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