Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses the National Visa Center (NVC) immigrant visa backlog and current NVC processing times in the month of June. Stay tuned for updates on the Department of State’s plan to reopen Embassies and Consulates worldwide, and information on how Consular posts will be prioritizing visa issuance in the next few months for F-1 students, H-1B workers, H-4 spouses, and J-1 Workers.
Want to know more? Keep on watching for all the details.
The National Visa Center’s Backlog
As many of you know, last year the Department of State made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend routine visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consular posts worldwide to prevent the rapid spread of the Coronavirus. The suspension was necessary to adhere to local regulations such as the mandatory quarantines and social distancing required to contain the virus. Although Embassies and Consulates are now following a phased resumption of visa services framework, limited resources and local country conditions in some regions have prevented Consular posts from providing routine visa services as before. Most Consular sections are not operating at normal capacity, and are prioritizing visa appointments for emergencies, mission critical visa services, and immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens including K fiancé(e)s.
On February 2, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order, “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans,” which was designed to promote integration and inclusion for foreign born immigrants, including the dismantling of harmful anti-immigrant policies.
Despite the issuance of this Executive Order, Embassies and Consulates have not been able to return to normalcy and routine visa services have remained suspended. Consular officials are still refusing to issue visas for individuals that remain in the lower tier of immigrant visa prioritization, including family preference, employment preference, and diversity immigrant visa applicants. This has prompted hundreds of individuals to join numerous class action lawsuits to force the government to intervene.
While routine visa services have remained suspended at Consular posts worldwide, the National Visa Center (NVC), an intermediary pre-processing agency for immigrant visa cases tasked with the responsibility of transferring such cases for adjudication to the U.S. Embassy or Consular post abroad, has been facing severe backlogs since immigrant visa cases cannot proceed for visa scheduling due to limited visa appointments.
According to the latest backlog report, the number of immigrant visa applicants whose cases are now documentarily complete at the National Visa Center, and are ready for an interview as of May 31, 2021, is 536,541.
Yet only 30,320 immigrant visa applicants whose cases have been documentarily complete have been scheduled for an interview in the month of June 2021.
Approximately 506,221 eligible immigrant visa applicants have not yet been scheduled for an interview after June 2021 appointment scheduling was completed.
By way of comparison in fiscal year 2019, only 60,000 immigrant visa applicants were waiting to be scheduled for an interview after their cases were documentarily complete.
Unfortunately, these numbers illustrate that this backlog is so severe that it will be take a substantial amount of time for immigrant visa applicants to be scheduled for an interview.
Why are the NVC backlogs so severe?
Due to the suspension of routine visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide, the National Visa Center has been unable to transfer documentarily complete immigrant visa cases to their respective Embassy or Consulate, because the Embassies do not have the capacity to schedule them for an interview appointment. As a result, the National Visa Center (NVC) has been warehousing these cases at its facilities and will hold onto these cases until Embassies and Consulates have increased their capacity for visa appointments.
What is being done to decrease these backlogs?
Very little is being done by the Department of State to open more appointments for immigrant visa applicants. Litigation remains pending to push certain Consular sections and Embassies to open more interview appointments slots for those waiting in these severe backlogs.
Good News for F-1, H-1B, H-4, and J-1 students, Bad News for B1/B2 Tourists
According to information released by a senior State Department official at a townhall meeting, Embassies and Consulates abroad will engage in an intensive two-month initiative dedicated to interviewing F-1 student visa applicants beginning on July 1, 2021. The agency is committed to interviewing as many students as were interviewed during the summer of 2019.
On June 14, 2021, U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide will open tens of thousands of student visa appointments around the country that will take place in July and August of 2021, with more appointment slots to be opened in later months. Those students who are eligible for interview waivers or drop box visa processing may be able to apply at application support centers abroad in the future.
In addition to students, other groups that will be prioritized for visa appointment scheduling are H-1B, H-4, and J-1 visa applicants. Prioritization this summer will be given to individuals in these visa categories who are traveling to the United States to support specific fields such as medicine and research. The State Department is doing its best to accommodate National Interest Exception appointment requests from these individuals.
Unfortunately, the Presidential Proclamations still in force will continue to prevent the scheduling of appointments for B1/B2 applicants for tourism and temporary business activities. In addition, very few B1/B2 visas will be issued, or receive an approved National Interest Exception. Therefore, B1/B2 applicants should expect to wait until next year for more news on when they may apply for a B1/B2 tourist visa.
National Visa Center Processing Times
As mentioned previously, the National Visa Center (NVC) acts as an intermediary between USCIS and the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad where the applicant will receive their immigrant visa interview.
After U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves your immigrant visa petition, USCIS forwards your petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, NH for immigrant visa pre-processing. Thereafter the National Visa Center collects important information from immigrant visa applicants such as fees, forms, and supporting documentation, and prepares cases for their eventual transfer to the respective Embassy/Consulate abroad. Interviews and transfers are based on availability of appointments being offered by the specific Embassy/Consulate.
What are the current NVC processing times?
Current case file creation time – As of June 28, 2021, the National Visa Center is working on cases that were received from USCIS on June 22, 2021, after being approved. Once a case has been approved by USCIS, the agency issues the applicant a Form I-797 approval notice. At this point, the National Visa Center will open a file for you and enter all your information into their system. After the National Visa Center creates a case in its system, they will send you further instructions for processing your case including a welcome letter with your case number and an invoice ID number that you will be able to use to login to your Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).
Furthermore as of July 6, 2021, the National Visa Center is working on cases that were received from USCIS on June 30, 2021.
When looking at the National Visa Center processing times online, you will notice the notation “Current Case Review Time.” These are the actual cases that the National Visa Center can review right now. Before the National Visa Center can review your case, you must complete all its requirements to become documentarily qualified, such as paying all required fees as indicated in the NVC instructions, submitting all required supporting documentation, and all civic documentation required to complete the processing of the case. If you have not yet submitted all the necessary documentation, nor paid the fees, the National Visa Center will not be able to review your case.
As of June 28, 2021, the National Visa Center is reviewing cases that were documentarily qualified as of May 27, 2021 (the Current Case Review Time).
As of July 6, 2021, the agency is reviewing cases that were documentarily qualified as of June 2, 2021 (the Current Case Review Time).
What is the Current Public Inquiry Response?
As of June 28, 2021, the National Visa Center is responding to inquiries submitted on June 7, 2021. As of July 6, 2021, they are responding to inquiries submitted on June 11, 2021. Remember that when you do inquire with the National Visa Center, you make a proper submission and submit the electronic inquiry form on its website. Failure to submit your inquiry on the NVC website will result in delays. We recommend that you only inquire with the National Visa Center if your case is outside of the normal processing time, so you do not overwhelm the inquiry system. You may choose to either submit your inquiry on the NVC’s website online or contacting the NVC by telephone.
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