Ask The US Embassy

Knowing your priority date

Wednesday, August 15, 2012    

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Q:

My mother filed for me in 2006 and at the time I was told it would take about six years to get my visa. Should I expect that I'll be getting it soon? How I can I know when I'll be contacted about the next steps?

A:

Outside of the immediate relative categories (husbands, wives and minor children of US citizens) immigrant visa cases are handled in the order received, or by priority date. If you know your priority date you can get some sense of whether your case will soon become current, or ready for an immigrant visa interview at the Embassy. Unfortunately, however, you can only get a general sense as there is no sure way to predict when exactly, your case will become current.

This is because apart from the immediate relative categories mentioned above, US law sets a limit on the number of immigrant visas that can be issued worldwide each year. (Husbands, wives and minor children of US citizens are not subject to these limits.) If more people apply for these visas than expected, wait times can increase, but if fewer than expected apply, the wait times can decrease and the process will move faster.

Subject to those statutory limits, cases are handled in the order received, or by priority date — the date on which your petition was filed. With knowledge of your priority date and the category of visa that you'll be applying for, you can get some sense of when your case might become current by checking the Department of State's monthly Visa Bulletin, published online at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_1360.html

Assuming, for example, that you are unmarried, and that your mother is a US citizen, you would be applying in the F1 category. A quick perusal of the Visa Bulletin for August 2012 shows that F1 cases filed on or before August 1, 2005 are now current.

Therefore, because your priority date is in 2006, your case is not yet current.

Does this mean that your case will soon be current? Maybe. You cannot always count on the priority dates listed in the Visa Bulletin going forward. Sometimes they will go backwards as numerical limits for certain categories are reached. It all depends on the current demand for immigrant visas around the world. So while you can keep an eye on the bulletin each month to get some sense of where you stand, there is still no way to predict when your case will become current.

Because the system is based on the number of visas that are issued worldwide, your case might even lapse back into non-current status even after you have had your initial interview if for some reason your visa cannot be issued immediately. Say, for instance, that your case is temporarily refused at the initial interview because your file was missing a required document. If you take a long time to return with that document and a new Visa Bulletin shows that your case is no longer current, the Embassy will not be able to issue your visa until your case is current again. It is therefore always best to come to your interview fully prepared with all the documents required.

More information on the immigrant visa application process, as well as links to current and past Visa Bulletins, can be found at www.travel.state.gov.

Reminder for US Citizens

The 2012 election season is underway in the US. To register to vote from abroad or to sign up to receive state-specific election alerts, visit http://fvap.gov. You may drop off your voting materials with postage affixed at the US Embassy in Kingston or at the US Consular Agencies in Montego Bay and the Cayman Islands for delivery to the US.

For more information about American Citizen Services, please visit our website http://kingston.usembassy.gov/service.html.

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