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Roundtable 6: Demystifying the Visa Queues: An Interagency Discussion on Priority Dates

This roundtable focused on interagency management of the family and employment-based visa queues, movement of the cut-off dates in the Department of State (DOS) Visa Bulletin, how priority dates are established, how they may be retained when categories change, and how they are revoked under certain circumstances. Panelists also discussed retrogression, or the backwards movement of cut-off dates, and its impacts on individuals and employers.

Moderator: Gary Merson, Ombudsman's Office


  • Charlie Oppenheim, U.S. Department of State
  • Sophia Cox, USCIS Service Center Operations
  • Vinay Singla, USCIS Field Operations
  • Charles Wheeler, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

Mr. Wheeler explained automatic conversion of an individual's priority date and "opt-out" options for preference based petitions. Unmarried sons and daughters of Legal Permanent Residents (F2B) may "opt-out" of conversion to first preference (F1) when the petitioner naturalizes. For certain countries, the wait is longer for F1 category than for the F2B category. Recently, the BIA held that individuals qualifying as a child sponsored by a lawful permanent resident parent under the Child Status Protection Act may not "opt-out" of conversion to F1 when the petitioner naturalizes. Zamora-Molina, 25 I&N, Dec. 606 (BIA 2011).

Mr. Wheeler explained that if the same petitioner is filing for the same beneficiary in the same category and the first petition was approved, then the subsequent petition should retain the initial priority date. There is no retention of priority date if the petition is revoked or terminated. See 8 CFR ¤ 205.1. For retention of priority date if the F2A ages out, file a second Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative to retain the priority date.

Mr. Oppenheim discussed how DOS establishes cut-off dates in the Visa Bulletin. There are approximately 4.6 million people waiting for visas. Congress has allocated 226,000 family immigrant visas and 140,000 employment immigrant visas annually. Each country is subject to an annual allotment of seven percent, which equates to a limit of 15,820 family visas and 9,800 employment visas. Mr. Oppenheim noted that in determining cut-off dates, his office looks at the number of visas used in past years, and monitors usage during the current year.

Ms. Cox presented on USCIS processing of employment-based petitions and green card applications. Approximately 70 percent of employment-based immigration applications are processed through the USCIS Texas and Nebraska Service Centers. When one's visa number is available, applicants may concurrently file Forms I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker and I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. If an immigrant visa number is not available, employers or individuals may file the I-140 petition to establish the priority date but must wait to file the I-485 application.

USCIS Service Center Operations (SCOPS) is now moving past the 2007 filing surge cases, and based on movement of the Visa Bulletin cut-off dates and an analysis of completed Form I-140s, USCIS anticipates 14,000 – 18,000 new employment-based adjustment of status filings in the coming months. Long pending applications and petitions are being reviewed on issues, such as: the job offer, changes in derivative beneficiaries, up-to-date biometrics, and needed additional evidence. SCOPS is working with the USCIS Lockboxes to ensure that they have the capacity to accept large numbers of filings, coordinating with the Application Support Centers to ensure that they are ready for increased numbers of biometric appointments, and working with the service centers to ensure that ancillary applications for advance parole and employment authorization are adjudicated in a timely manner. SCOPS also will monitor the number of incoming receipts to better coordinate with DOS.

Mr. Singla offered insight on USCIS' processing of family-based cases, which are under the jurisdiction of field offices. A family-based case is prepped at the National Benefits Center (NBC) in Lee's Summit, Missouri and then forwarded to the local office. The field office requests the file from the NBC and schedules appointments. Mr. Singla explained that if the immigrant visa is available, the final adjudication takes place at the field office. If the immigrant visa is no longer available, due to retrogression in the DOS Visa Bulletin, the file is sent back to the NBC. He explained that centralizing petitions helps with inventory control.

Conference attendees also had an opportunity to ask questions of the panelists, some of which are included below.

How does USCIS Field Operations handle visa retrogression for family-based cases?

Retrogression does not stop interviews from being scheduled. Individuals may contact the National Customer Service Center toll-free number to initiate a case inquiry. Once the priority date is current, USCIS instructed individuals to wait at least one month before making an inquiry because when an inquiry is made, the file is pulled out of the queue for an officer to review and upon review, must be put back into the queue. If this process is not resulting in current cases being adjudicated, please contact the Ombudsman's Office.

How does one notify USCIS of a visa petition preference category upgrade?

USCIS automatically connects both Form I-140 filings, but if you are current for your new employment-based classification and you have not heard from the agency after 30 days, email: streamline.tsc@dhs.gov or ncscfollowup.nsc@dhs.gov.

For additional information about any of these panels including copies of PowerPoint presentations, please email cisombudsman.publicaffairs@dhs.gov.

Last Updated: 09/10/2021
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