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The Sponsoring your family to immigrate to the U.S.
Understand The Immigrant Visa Process

How Long Will It Take? Understanding Family Sponsored Immigration Visas, Priority Dates and the Visa Bulletin

Family immigration can often seem like a very confusing, mysterious process that makes little sense and takes many years to accomplish. And while it is frustrating to wait so many years in the process, it’s beneficial to have a good understanding of what the process is and why it may takes so long for a family member to immigrate to the U.S..

All family members (with the exception of “Immediate Relatives” who are Spouses, Minor Children and Parents of U.S. Citizens), who are sponsored to immigrate to the U.S. to obtain Permanent Residence (the “green card”) must go through the U.S. visa quota system. The visa quota system is essentially a series of long lines for each family category, all waiting for a visa to become available.
There are approximately 226,000 visas available each year to be distributed among the various family categories. And because the demand for family sponsored visas each year always far exceeds the number of visas available, the family lines grow longer and longer. A family members “place” in the visa line is determined by the “Priority Date” they were assigned when their U.S. Citizen or U.S. Resident family member filed the I-130 application to sponsor them. 

The Priority Date is the date the I-130 was filed. So, if you were going to picture it, imagine that once the I-130 petition is filed, the family member is given a ticket with a certain date on it and placed in a line to await his or her date being called. All the individuals ahead of the family member have earlier dates on their tickets, because the I-130 petition was filed by their relative at an earlier time, and those behind them were filed later. So as time goes on, the line moves up and the family member gets closer and closer and while it may take many years, eventually they do get to the front of the line. 
Once they reach the front of the line, they obtain their long awaited “Immigrant Visa” from the U.S. Consulate and finally immigrate to the USA.

Keeping track of these visa numbers, Priority Dates and quotas is a complicated matter given to the U.S. Department of State (DOS), which uses data and calculations to predict when a visa will be available in any particular family category in order to establish which date gets to move to the front of the line. The DOS publishes these figures each month in a notice called the “Visa Bulletin” which is available on the DOS website. To complicate matters, not all countries have the same line in the same family categories as others. This is because there is a higher demand for visas from some countries than from others. For instance, the waiting line for an adult, single child (over age 21) of a U.S. Citizen is about 7 years for most countries. However for Mexicans, the wait is over 20 years, due to high demand built up over the years. Because of this, the Visa Bulletin chart categorizes visa availability by dividing is among high demand countries such as China, India, the Philippines & Mexico, then a general worldwide category which everyone else falls into.
And just to confuse the matter further, Visa dates don’t always move forward, sometime to our despair, they actually move backward and go further back in time. This is something called “regression”. It is really important to understand even when a family member’s Priority Date becomes current and he or she is right at the front of the line ready to step up to the window and get their visa, if they are still processing and haven’t yet attended their immigrant appointment, if the Visa Bulletin date regresses, they must go back and get in the line again and wait until their date is called again. 

While complicated, the reason for this is that the DOS publishes the Visa Bulletin based upon data predictions of how many visas will be used and when a visa will be available. 
So to try to make some sense of it, if the prediction is that 1,000 family members (including their dependents) in the line ahead would be issued visas, but instead, those family members had more dependents than predicted, so they had to actually issue 1,500 visas, then that will delay those waiting in the line behind.

As a result, once a family member is notified by the National Visa Center (NVC) that it is time to start processing for the final phase of immigration, family members and sponsors should avoid delay and quickly provide the required information and financial documentation to the NVC in order to obtain their immigrant visa as soon as possible….in case the line regresses. Good luck!