With only modest movement in the employment-based preference categories for the first quarter of the fiscal year (Oct.–Dec.), the Visa Office had hoped that more dramatic forward movement in some of these categories would start in January. Unfortunately, the Visa Office does not have sufficient data to evaluate visa demand, and thus it will not make predictions on final-action dates in the near term. Fortunately, USCIS has decided to accept adjustment of status applications based on the “Dates for Filing” in January. The following is an overview of the immigrant visa process and how backlogs work.

Overview of the Immigrant Visa Process: Most prospective immigrant visa applicants qualify for status under the law on the basis of family relationships or employer sponsorship. Entitlement to visa processing in these classes is normally established through approval by USCIS of a petition filed on the applicant’s behalf. Applicants whose petitions will be processed at an overseas post are forwarded by USCIS to the Department of State; applicants in categories subject to numerical limits are registered on the visa waiting list. Each case is assigned a priority date based on the petition’s filing date. Visa issuance within each numerically limited category is possible only if the applicant’s priority date is within the applicable “final action” dates, which are published each month by the Department of State in the Visa Bulletin. Family- and employment-preference applicants compete for visa numbers within their respective categories on a worldwide basis according to priority date; a statutory per-country limit on such preference immigrants places a maximum on the amount of visas that may be issued in a single year to applicants from any one country. This means that many categories become backlogged and people have to wait. On the family side, more than 3.6 million people wait for immigrant visas, the vast majority of which – 2.2 million – represent siblings of U.S. citizens. On the employment side, there are 140,000 visas issued annually. In those categories, the waits are much shorter, with some notable exceptions.

Recently, the Department of State asked the National Visa Center (NVC) to report the totals of applicants on the waiting list in the various immigrant categories. Because applications for adjustment of status are adjudicated and pend at USCIS offices and the NVC does not have information on them, those numbers are not included. This is significant because the majority of employment-based green cards are processed by USCIS and not by the NVC. Nevertheless, according to the NVC, the following provides a snapshot of some of the employment-based visa waits as of November 1, 2018 and as compared to November 1, 2017:

Category As of Nov. 1, 2017 As of Nov. 1, 2018
Employment First 5,527 9,266
Employment Second 16,725 20,501
Employment Third Total
  Skilled Workers:
  Other Workers:
59,087
53,194
5,893
50,966
43,385
7,581
Employment Fourth Total 591 797
Employment Fifth Total 30,259 39,001
Total 112,189 120,531