Delays in immigrant visa processing

The rapid movement of EB-3 priority dates particularly the Philippine EB-3 which advanced by 6 years and 3 ½ months last year was great news to Filipino nurses who had been waiting for many years for their visa numbers. However, this, along with the large increase of approved cases from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have created a significant backlog at the National Visa Center (NVC).

As a result of the increased number of cases being handled by the NVC, it has been experiencing delays in the processing of immigrant visa applications.

The NVC receives and handles the processing of approved immigrant visa petitions from the USCIS. If a visa number is available, the agency notifies the applicant and collects relevant fees as well as financial and civil documents. It also reviews DS-260 immigrant visa applications which are completed and submitted online.

When documents are deemed complete, the agency coordinates with U.S. embassies abroad to set up interview schedule and forwards the cases to them. Meantime, visa petitions which are not current are filed and stored until they become current.

The number of cases received by the NVC in the past year increased from about 8,000 cases per week to around 25,000 cases per week. Case creation alone took 45 days last summer. At present, processing delays of at least 60 days is expected at the document review stage. Responding to email inquiries takes about 25 days.

For fiscal year 2014, the NVC had a total of 2.6 million cases. It received from the USCIS 709,000 cases. 99,000 cases were current family-based petitions. It forwarded a total of 349,000 cases to U.S. consular offices abroad.

Previously, the NVC required original civil documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and police certificates, among others. In order to reduce processing wait times, the NVC has adopted a new policy requiring visa applicants to submit only photocopies of civil documents. Applicants who are required to submit Affidavits of Support, however, are still required to submit the forms in the original. Also, original supporting documents are required at the time of interview.

The processing delays at the NVC has caused frustration to many visa applicants. Affidavit of support issues, for instance, have resulted in the “back and forth” between the applicant and the NVC which resulted in longer wait times.

In a meeting between the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the NVC, the NVC addressed the issue and confirmed that if the information submitted is “objectively complete and if taken as true would satisfy the affidavit of support requirements”, the application should be allowed to move forward.

The NVC also confirmed that where the discrepancy as indicated on the Affidavit of Support and in the supporting evidence is minimal, the examiners are encouraged to exercise reasonable judgment and permit the case to move forward as long as evidence submitted satisfies the legal requirement. The NVC is currently addressing the issue by training its examiners.

These are only some of the many issues addressed by the NVC. The agency reports that it is working diligently in its effort to reduce processing delays.