Below are some takeaways from AILA regarding the Department of State’s first “chat with Charlie” held on 3/17/2021 on the U.S. Department of State: Consular Affairs YouTube channel. This will be a recurring monthly segment where Charlie Oppenheim responds to the public’s questions regarding the Visa Bulletin.
- Debut of Chats with Charlie!
The State Department’s inaugural engagement “Chats with Charlie” was held on March 17, 2021 at 1:00 PM EST. This live chat over YouTube enables Charlie Oppenheim to respond to the public’s questions regarding the Visa Bulletin. The end of every Visa Bulletin, the State Department will announce the exact date for the 1:00 PM EST event, which will typically be a few days following publication of the Visa Bulletin. Questions are solicited in advance at VisaBulletin@state.gov and are taken in real time during the event. The live event and archived recordings can be found at https://www.youtube.com/user/TravelGov You must have a YouTube account and channel to be able to submit questions during the live event.
- Visa Bulletin Reflects Data Available at Time of Publication
The Final Action Dates listed in the Visa Bulletin are based upon information available at the time of publication. At times, data obtained during the month may require Charlie to change the Final Action Dates mid-month. For example, AILA has seen include particular preference categories become unavailable mid-month due to an exhaustion of allocable visas in that category. When this occurs, it typically does not impact USCIS filings through that month. However, it does result in the inability of consulates or USCIS to issue any immigrant visas/approve AOS applications in that category.
- Impact of Agency Processing Capacity on Final Action Dates
In determining the Final Action Dates, Charlie starts with the annual limit which is calculated just prior to the upcoming fiscal year. He then works with that number as if he were managing a budget. He breaks that annual allocation up into quarterly targets based on limited imposed by the respective preference category and by foreign state. As the year progresses, he considers several factors, including numbers used and what remains of the annual limit, how many visa numbers he must set aside for emergencies, any information received from consular posts and USCIS with regard to their anticipated needs, and any consular returns (i.e., unused visas from the allocation he provided post for that month).
- Projections for the FY2022 Family-Based and Employment-Based Allocations
Unused family-based (FB) preference numbers from a given fiscal year are added to the employment-based (EB) allocation for the upcoming fiscal year and vice versa. FB cases are predominately processed at consular posts, and the suspension of normal visa operations due to the pandemic resulted in 122,000 FB visas being added into the FY2021 EB allocation, causing the EB allocation for FY2021 to be 262,000 (140,000 + 122,000), which is the highest EB allocation on record. To contextualize how large this number is, the highest EB allocation prior to this year was 158,000.
Due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic on consular operations, Charlie does not expect high FB usage in FY2021. He noted that USCIS has been doing a phenomenal job using the EB preference numbers, notwithstanding their own processing constraints. Charlie noted that, as of data available on March 17, 2021, the FY2022 FB limit will be at least 226,000, and the EB limit will be at least 275,000. He further noted that he will be able to further refine what those annual allocations will be as the year goes on.
- Why Family-Based Final Action Dates are Advancing Slowly
When Charlie advanced the FB dates in FY2020 it built up sufficient demand to utilize the Quarter 1 allocation of numbers. In Quarter 2 he needed to build up additional demand and therefore advanced the dates again. Based on the advancements made in the FB dates in April 2021, Charlie expects to generate sufficient demand for the rest of the fiscal year, and thus, AILA members should not expect much, if any, movement in the FB categories. The only exception to this is with regard Mexico and the Philippines which he expects will continue to advance due to insufficient demand in those categories compared to their allocation.
- Why Is F4 Moving So Slowly?
The National Visa Center (NVC) did not receive a timely response to its requests to submit documents and pay the IV fees, so about 14 months ago Charlie advanced the F4 dates to maximize number usage under the annual limit. This generated more demand than needed, relative to the limited numbers available, which required Charlie to slow down forward movement across the F4 category.
- Why Aren’t All Numbers Used Each Fiscal Year?
The annual per country, per category limit of numbers are not used in a particular fiscal year when there is insufficient demand. For example, F2A became current in July 2019 and there has been insufficient demand in that category to use all allocable numbers. Due to the lack of significant IV consular processing since last March, sufficient demand has built up to enable this category to utilize its full allocation once normal processing resumes.
- What Is the Difference Between the Final Action Dates and the Dates for Filing?
The Final Action Dates (Chart A) are the dates based upon which the agencies can conduct interviews/finalize action for that month, because there are sufficient numbers available to give an immigrant visa to everyone whose priority date is current that month. The Dates for Filing (Chart B) are the dates that NVC uses to contact people to start getting documentarily qualified. These dates represent where Charlie expects the Final Action Dates to be between 8 and 12 months in the future. This allows applicants to become documentarily qualified and to build up Charlie’s visibility to demand. The more accurate Charlie’s visibility is into the demand, the less likely that there will be volatility in the Final Action Dates. With regard to USCIS processing, Charlie obtains visibility when an application is finalized and the request for an immigrant visa is made. His monthly engagements with USCIS also provide data regarding the number of pending applications.
- Diversity Visa (DV) Rank Cut-Offs
Charlie predicts that the DV dates will continue to advance and expects that all regional cut-off dates will be current no later than June 2021.
- Observations on EB Filings in October 2020 and November 2020
There was a tremendous number of filings in October and early November 2020. It takes time for USCIS to pre-process these applications. USCIS is using a large number of EB visas and Charlie expects number usage in the EB categories to skyrocket in the second half of the fiscal year as compared with the first quarter.
- EB-1 China/EB-1 India
In April 2021, EB-1 China and EB-1 India became current along with the rest of the world. Charlie expects these categories to remain current through the rest of the fiscal year barring any extraordinary spikes in demand, which he does not anticipate. Now that EB-1 is current across all categories, it allows the potentially unused numbers to fall down to EB-2 India.
EB Final Action Dates generally are advancing at a very rapid pace. By EB-1 India and EB-1 China becoming current, it allows unused numbers in that category to fall down to EB-2 as early as possible. While Charlie cannot comment on what USCIS can feasibly process this fiscal year, he noted that they are doing a phenomenal job processing AOS applications, notwithstanding their constraints. Charlie cautioned, however, that rapid advancement in the Final Action Dates could potentially require corrective action at the end of the fiscal year if demand spikes.
Charlie could not comment on the number of unused EB numbers he expects this year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic but noted that last year with similar COVID-related processing constraints, there were only 9,000 unused EB IVs. This represents usage of over 95% of the available numbers. USCIS typically processes only 85-90% of the EB limit in a typical fiscal year.
- Projected Advancement in EB Dates in FY2021
Charlie meets with USCIS on a monthly basis and obtains data which helps him understand the demand and determine how the Final Action Dates might move. Charlie expects the EB Final Action Dates to reach the dates in Chart B (Dates for Filing) by the end of FY2021. He expects these dates to advance to allow for increased number use.
- EB-2 India
EB-2 India experienced dramatic forward movement in April 2021 and will continue to advance dramatically in May 2021.
- EB-3 China & EB-3 India
Charlie expects there to be even more aggressive forward movement in EB-3 China and EB-3 India in the coming months than what we have seen in March 2021 and April 2021. The EB-3 China and EB-3 India Final Action Dates are ahead of EB-2 China and EB-2 India respectively. Charlie believes there were a large number of downgrades but has no visibility into this likely demand until visa numbers are requested at the end of the AOS processing.
- EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and EB-4 Mexico
Charlie expects these categories will continue to advance at a pace consistent with that of recent months. Prior movements in these dates did not generate as much demand as he expected.
The rapid movement in EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has resulted in this category reaching its per country limits. Any further movement will be based on availability of “otherwise unused numbers.”
- EB-5 China and EB-5 Vietnam
Charlie does not anticipate any advancement in the EB-5 China Final Action Date in the foreseeable future and most likely not this fiscal year. There are over 5,000 documentarily qualified applicants that are current for final action. This is a sufficient number of visas given the annual limit and otherwise unused numbers. As a result, he feels legally constrained from advancing the Final Action Dates, notwithstanding the fact that doing so might allow EB-5 China number usage through USCIS Adjustment of Status filings.
The Final Action Date for EB-5 Vietnam will continue to advance.