July 4, 2022

Immigration Visa

The Magic of immigration visa

Preferred does not mean immediate

PREFERRED customers — senior citizens, the physically handicapped and pregnant women — usually get to the head of the line first. That’s in the Philippine setting.

In the US, the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically affected the Department of State’s ability to process immigrant visa applications since March 2020. US embassies and consulates have tweaked their visa operations on a location-by-location basis, depending on their assessment to include local and national lockdowns, travel restrictions and host country quarantine regulations to contain the spread of Covid-19.

On Feb. 2, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 14012, Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems — a commitment to resolve the immigrant visa backlog and transparently sharing the current status of worldwide visa operations, while remaining dedicated to the safety of consular staff and applicants, and the national security of the United States.

IVC Immigrant Visa Center monitors this backlog reporting shown on Table 1 (for the use of immigrant communities worldwide).

TABLE 1 IMMIGRANT VISA BACKLOG REPORTING

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The total number of immigrant visas issued worldwide over this 14-month period (from April 2020 to May 2022) is 391,209.

The NVC (National Visa Center) noted that in calendar year 2019 on average, 60,866 applicants were waiting for their visa interview each month. That would be730,392forthe 12-month period for a regular fiscal year. Instead, only 330,323 immigrant visas were issued in that stretch.

Effectively, the Trump immigrant admission ban under cover of Covid-19 cut legal immigration by more than 50 percent over a one-year period from the time the Biden administration started monitoring the backlog of immigrant visa applicants waiting for their interview dates and presenting themselves to a US consular officer.

Not the total picture

The NVC warns that “this data is specific to cases that have been processed by NVC and determined to be “documentarily complete.” It does not reflect IV cases that have already been transferred to an embassy or consulate for interview, cases that are still with USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) for petition approval, or cases that are not considered documentarily complete.”

The effect of Trump immigration’s admission ban was more severe in fiscal year 2021 (see Table 2); only 298,837 immigrant visas were issued worldwide (over a 12-month period).

TABLE 2 IMMIGRANT VISAS ISSUED FISCAL YEAR 2021 WITH TRUMP ADMISSION BAN

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At the US Embassy in Manila, a paltry 15,223 immigrant visas were issued to all immigrant visa applicants.

US visa laws allocate 25,620 total per country such as the Philippines.

The one-year total of 15,223 issued at the US Embassy in Manila may not then be that bad — only 10,397 short.

But the total number of immigrant visas in Table 2 includes visas issued to the immediate relatives of US citizens. In fact, there are more visas issued to these immediate relatives than visas issued to the numerically limited family preference categories.

The State Department’s visa allocation program scheme is mirrored in the monthly Visa Bulletin:

Section 201 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets an annual minimum family-sponsored preference limit of 226,000.

The worldwide level for annual employment-based preference immigrants is at least 140,000. Section 202 prescribes that the per-country limit for preference immigrants is set at 7 percent of the total annual family-sponsored and employment-based preference limits, i.e. 25,620. The dependent area limit is set at 2 percent, or 7,320.

INA Section 203(e) provides that family-sponsored and employment-based preference visas be issued to eligible immigrants in the order in which a petition on behalf of each has been filed. That measuring stick is the priority date or the date in which the petition was filed, accepted and acknowledged by the USCIS.

Immigration Act of 1990

In 1990, the US Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990 which changed the total number of immigrant visas to be issued yearly under the family-sponsored and employment-based immigrants.

Family-sponsored includes the spouses, children and parents of US citizens (“immediate relatives”) who are not subject to the annual quota.

For the first four years (1990-1994), the initial cap of the family-sponsored was 700,000, while the employment-sponsored and diversity visa applicants retain the140,000 and 55,000 allocation, respectively.

Starting in 1995, the immigration cap was reduced to about 675,000 yearly: 480,000 for the family-sponsored, and the same totals to the employment-based and diversity visa applicants.

To protect immigrant visa applicants in the family-preference categories (who are subject to quota), IA 90 specified that the number of family-preference visas “could not drop below 226,000 a year.”

Hence every year, immediate relatives of US citizens (CR1, CR2, IR1, IR2, IR5), compete with the family-preference applicants for the 480,000 family-preference allocation until only 226,000 is left.

Table 2 missed the allocation provisions of the Immigration Act of 1990 for per country limits because of the twin scourges of the Trump immigrant admission ban and Covid-19.

The Trump ban, caused the huge immigrant visa backlog and the embassies — using their discretion in issuing immigrant visas under the spirit of IA 90 — severely limited the visas issued to applicants for the 11-month period (April 2021-March 2022) to 13,766.

The immediate relatives of US citizens got more than half of the visas issued with 6,942, followed by the employment-based with 4,457.

The most adversely affected were the family-preference group with only 2,367 visas issued in all five categories.

As our assessment and official data indicate, an immigrant visa applicant may be in a preferred category, but the visa issuance is not immediate.

Closer to home, the preferred presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. promised an immediate lowering of the price of rice to P20 per kilogram in his first year of office. If not successful, BBM still has five years to make good on his promise.

Unless the Marcos-friendly legislators change the Constitution allowing Marcos Jr. a second term. Or a third.

By that time, most of the immigrant visa applicants in the family-preference categories should have obtained their visas and can afford the price of rice. Or a burger. Or steak.

Meanwhile, those left behind under the Marcos Jr. rule may be lucky enough not to eat crow.

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