[COLUMN] Update on embassy interviews

MOST people, with family members or employees stranded overseas waiting for their immigrant visa interviews, will find some ray of hope with the news and updates coming from the Department of State’s (DOS) Visa Office. Charlie Oppenheim, the Visa Office Numerical Control Division Chief, and the person in charge of setting the priority dates on the monthly Visa Bulletin, offered advice and predictions for the coming months in terms of scheduling interviews and processing of cases.First, it is important that once the priority date on a person’s petition becomes available or current, they must ensure that their visa application is completed promptly, including the submission of all required documents and payment of all applicable fees. This is called being “documentarily qualified.” Typically, if a person does not pursue his or her visa within one year of availability, does not submit requested documents within one year, etc., the case can be terminated and canceled. Therefore, it is very important you monitor your priority date for visa availability and make sure NVC has your current address.

Even if a person’s priority date is current, they will NOT be scheduled for an interview unless and until the case is “documentarily qualified.” This means all required documents, forms, and fees have been submitted. Sometimes NVC asks a person to submit additional documentation. Even if their priority date is current, unless and until the person completes the required documentation or information, their case will not be queued up for interview. It remains collecting dust waiting for them to act.

USCIS processed cases at the rate of 7,000 to 8,000 per week in August and September 2021. Even if USCIS processes 5,000 cases per week, when combined with immigrant visa processing abroad, it could result in using up all the estimated 280,000 employment-based visas before the end of the fiscal year. Right now, employment-based visas for most countries are “current.” However, if all the visas are used up, priority dates may have to retrogress or move backwards.

Many consulates are increasing their processing rates of immigrant visas, which would also affect how quickly the number of visas are used up for the coming year. In addition, refusal rates of visas have decreased because people appear for their interviews better prepared; fewer people are missing their interviews; and people immediately submit requested documents right after the interview, to enable the case to continue to be processed and visa issued.

Overseas, there is tremendous backlog for employment-based visas, and once embassies start clearing the backlog, it could be possible the annual supply of employment-based visas will be used up.

Mr. Oppenheim predicts there will be a substantial increase in processing EB3 employment cases at the U.S. Embassy in Manila to address their backlogs, including the sizable backlog of those following to join family members. This is great news because under the DOS previous prioritization for immigrant visa interviews, employment-based cases were to be processed last. Now, it seems they will be finally taken off the shelf and slotted for interviews.

While the F2A (spouse or minor children of immigrant) priority date remains current, it could be possible to impose a final action date in the next nine months, meaning the F2A category will no longer be current for filing.

If your case has been stagnating at the embassy, or if your priority date is current, and you have not received any notice or notification from NVC, you may want to consult with an attorney, who can evaluate your situation, and determine if the case is properly on track and documentarily qualified, in order for the interview to be scheduled as soon as possible.

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Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 40 years and is licensed, and an active member of the State Bars of California and New York. All immigration services are provided by, or under the supervision of, an active member of the State Bar of California. Each case is different, and results may depend on the facts of the particular case. The information and opinions contained herein (including testimonials, “Success Stories,” endorsements and re-enactments) are of a general nature, and are not intended to apply to any particular case, and do not constitute a prediction, warranty, guarantee or legal advice regarding the outcome of your legal matter. No attorney-client relationship is, or shall be, established with any reader.

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