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How long will it take to get my visa?

DOS announced U.S. embassies and consulates are using a tiered approach to triage immigrant visa applications and to address the backlog in the processing of immigrant visas. DOS identified four priority tiers listing the main categories of immigrant visas in each:

  • Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), and certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government)

  • Tier Two: Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas

  • Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad

  • Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas

Per DOS, “consular sections, where possible, are scheduling some appointments within all four priority tiers every month.”

More information:

Many embassies and consulates continue to have a significant backlog of all categories of immigrant visas. This prioritization plan instructs posts to maximize their limited resources to accommodate as many immediate relative and fiancé(e) cases as possible with a goal of, at a minimum, preventing the backlog from growing in these categories and hopefully reducing it. However, the prioritization plan also instructs posts to schedule and adjudicate some cases in Tier Three and Tier Four each month. The Department recognizes that visa applicants, particularly those in Tiers Three and Four, will face continued delays. We further acknowledge that certain programs, including the diversity visa program, operate on a fiscal year basis as required by law. The Department values the diversity visa program and is making every effort to process as many diversity visa cases as possible, consistent with other priorities, despite the severe operational constraints and backlog resulting from the COVID pandemic.

However, as a result of COVID the number of visas issued in lower-priority preference categories or in such programs as the diversity visa program likely will not approach the statutory ceiling in Fiscal Year 2021.

More information on YouTube:

The Department of State’s Consular Affairs Unit has launched an exciting new monthly series on its YouTube channel, discussing current visa trends and future projections for immigrant visa preference categories with Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State.

According to an article form the Cato Institute:

As of April 8, 2021, just 57 of 237 visa processing sites around the world (24 percent) were fully operational for nonimmigrant visa applicants, and just 97 (41 percent) allowed anything other than emergency applications (Table 1). Even many open sites have massive wait times for visas. The average wait was 95 days for a visitor or business traveler visa, but 31 percent of sites open for those visas had waits longer than 4 months, and 22 percent had waits longer than 6 months.

Of the 231 visa processing sites, only 136 ever process immigrant (i.e. permanent) visas (before the pandemic closures). Immigrant visas are mainly for immediate family of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents and their spouses and minor children as well as diversity lottery winners and a few other smaller categories. The State Department does not publish any easily accessible public information on immigrant visa appointment availability by consulate. It did disclose in a sealed legal filing that as of January 8, 2021, barely 10 percent, or 14 sites, were processing immigrant visas. But about a quarter may be operational now based on the share of sites fully open for nonimmigrant visas that have immigrant visa processing.

Using figures for the month of April 2019, more than half a million (574,704) nonimmigrant visas are likely affected by the closures in April 2021, including 471,348 visitor and business traveler visas, 39,875 student and exchange visitor visas, and 63,481 visas for diplomats, workers, and others. The closures are affecting some of the largest U.S. consulates and embassies in the world, including Mexico City, Shanghai, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Guangzhou, Mumbai, and Buenos Aires. In addition, posts that were fully closed to non‐​emergency nonimmigrant visa applicants processed 21,886 immigrant visas in April 2019, implying that perhaps a majority of all immigrant visas are also affected.

Even when the posts are open, they often will cancel appointments without notice purportedly to prioritize, in the State Department’s words, “travelers with urgent needs, foreign diplomats, mission‐​critical categories of travelers (such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and workers who are essential to the American food supply), followed by students, exchange visitors, and some temporary employment visas.”

We hope to be able to give you more information in the near future. Stay tuned.

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