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Surge in Visa Availability for Family-Based Immigration Continues (for Now); Work Visas for Professionals, Skilled Workers and Others to Remain Backlogged - October 20, 2010

Family-based immigrant visa availability, as reported in the Department of State's Visa Bulletin, took a major step forward in fiscal year 2010 (October 1, 2009 - September 31, 2010) and continues for FY2011. The collective result is that wait times across the board have been significantly reduced compared with this time last year. All family-based preference categories skipped forward by at least 15 months compared to October 1, 2009. Visa waits for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and for close family relatives of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) jumped forward three to five years.

Charles Oppenheim, head of the State Department's Visa Control and Reporting Division, recently meet with immigration lawyers in Washington, DC, and shared his thoughts. On the family-side, the demand for visa numbers has declined in recent years, and Mr. Oppenheim attributed the decline to several reasons. First, "current" beneficiaries are deferring the filing of their immigrant visas due to the present economic climate in the U.S., including increased uncertainty about employment prospects, petitioners' inability to pay visa fees, and/or petitioner's inability to show compliance with affidavit of support income requirements. Second, many beneficiaries unlawfully present in the U.S. may be unwilling to travel to their home consulates to obtain their visas - these individuals are barred from adjusting their status in the U.S. - because doing so will subject them to the three- or ten-year bars on their readmission. Instead, such beneficiaries may be hoping for the passage of new law that would allow them to adjust their status. Priority dates in the family-based categories are expected to continue to advance relatively quickly.

On the employment side, however, employment-based preference categories surged over the same period. While employment-based first-, second-, fourth-, and fifth-preference categories all remained "current" (with the exception of second-preference categories for nationals born in China or India), third-preference, although still oversubscribed, gained three years (for professionals and skilled workers) and two years for "other workers."

Mr. Oppenheim reported that employment-based professional and unskilled visa categories (EB-3) will continue to remain oversubscribed and no change is expected. He opined that each beneficiary now requires more visas (for their spouses and children) than previously (on average 2.5 visas as compared to one visa in the past). Slow movement is expected to continue for Indian and Chinese nationals. In addition, he predicted that visas for Special Immigrant Religious Workers (E-4) may be oversubscribed by the year's end.