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How to Track Your Priority Date and Get Your Visa Interview Schedule

If you have waited years for your visa interview, it would be sad to have your visa petition cancelled simply because you were not able to get your visa interview date on time.

Crispin ArandaOriginally posted on May 11, 2018; updated May 11, 2018

How to Track Your Priority Date and Get Your Visa Interview Schedule

How to track your priority date and not miss your visa interview

Imagine having your application for permanent residency cancelled simply because you were not able to keep track of when a visa should have been available to you.

Visas become available when an applicant’s priority date becomes current whether the applicant is in or outside the U.S. 

The priority date is the date your visa petition was received and acknowledged either by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or its predecessor, the legacy U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (US INS).

Before USINS became USCIS, petitions were filed directly with an INS district office or in the case of the Philippines at the USINS/U.S. Embassy Manila.

Then the filings were directed to Adjudication Centers in California, Nebraska, Texas and Vermont.  These adjudication centers later were designated as Service Centers, each one bearing the state where the processing is done, and a three-letter prefix assigned (see below)

Potomac Service Center (“PTC”) was set up and certain case files were transferred from other Service Centers to “balance workloads.” PTC is now processing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, filed by F-1 and M-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) and J-1 dependents.

What the USCIS Receipt Numbers Mean

Currently, a visa petition received and acknowledged is assigned a USCIS receipt or case number: the 3-letter prefix of the corresponding Service Center followed by a series of numbers, for example WAC-15-123-45678. 

Processing Service Center

The first three letters indicate the USCIS service center which is processing the petition, as follows:

– EAC – Vermont Service Center;
– VSC – Vermont Service Center;
– WAC – California Service Center;
– CSC – California Service Center;
– LIN – Nebraska Service Center;
– NSC – Nebraska Service Center;
– SRC – Texas Service Center;
– TSC – Texas Service Center;
– MSC – National Benefits Center;
– NBC – National Benefits Center;
– IOE – ELIS (e-Filing); and
– YSC – Potomac Service Center.

Fiscal Year

The next two digits represent the fiscal year in which USCIS received the petition.  In the example provided, “15″ means that the petition was received by USCIS during Fiscal Year 2015.  The U.S. government’s Fiscal Year starts October 1st and ends September 30th.

Computer Workday

The next three digits represent the computer workday on which the receipt was processed, and the fee was taken - the sequential workday on which USCIS accepts cases for intake.    In the example provided, 123 would indicate that this was the 123th processing date of the fiscal year.   Processing dates start October 1st.

Case Processing Number

The last five digits are unique, random identification numbers in sequence issued as cases are received and processed at the USCIS processing facilities.

For example, I-130 visa petitions for qualified family members are now first sent to Lock Box facilities. The current I-130 form provides the following instructions:

For Petitioners residing in the U.S. “File at the Chicago or Phoenix Lockbox, depending on where you live and whether your relative is also concurrently filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

If you reside outside of the United States where USCIS has an international office, you may file at the USCIS Chicago Lockbox facility. If you are a U.S. citizen age 21 year or older and are filing for a spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21 or a parent, you may also file at the USCIS international office in the country in which you reside. 

If you are a U.S. citizen and you reside outside of the United States where USCIS does not have an international office, you may file for an immediate relative at the U.S. Embassy or consulate having jurisdiction over the area where you live only if:

  • Exceptional circumstances exist, and
  • The USCIS field office director with jurisdiction over that location determines that the embassy or consulate may accept and adjudicate the case.” 

Difference between Lockbox Facilities and Service Centers

A lockbox facility is a case intake processing center where the petition and accompanying documents are reviewed for completeness, including the correct filing fee. If deemed complete, the Lockbox facility staff generates a receipt notice – and number to each petition or case.  Then the file is forwarded to the appropriate Service Center for review and final decision.

The Service Center staff could then issue (1) Request for Further Evidence; (2) Approve or (3) Refuse the petition.

Forward to the National Visa Center.

An approved visa petition is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC).  The Approval Notice explains that the USCIS has completed its task. Further inquiries should then be directed to NVC – which is under the Department of State.  The USCIS is under the Department of Homeland Security.

NVC then assigns a case number – “MNL” for approved visa petitions of applicants from the Philippines

Visa cut-off date movement – forward and backward

All Family-based and Employment-sponsored petitions are put on queue after approval. Interview dates are scheduled when an applicant’s priority date becomes current, i.e., the applicant’s priority date is the same date or earlier than the cut-off date for a specific preference category.

Cut-off dates for countries that have more applicants than the yearly 25,620 visa allocation are shown on the monthly Visa Bulletin “Final Dates” chart. Another set of cut-off dates is shown on a separate chart (“Dates of Filing”).

As explained in previous columns, the Final Date chart indicates that applicants whose priority dates are within or earlier than the cut-off date for a specific category should have been scheduled for interview at a consular post after completing the required documents.

On the other hand, visa applicants whose cut-off dates are the same or earlier than what is shown for a preference category in the Filing Date chart should start submitting documents to NVC in preparation for the interview schedule when his or her priority date becomes current.

Let us take a Philippine F1 applicant (Over 21, unmarried son/daughter of a U.S. Citizen) as an example of how priority dates move in the Final Date chart last year (2017).





























After moving at 2 to 4 weeks per month (from January to May), the cut-off date moved forward almost 2 months and 3 weeks in June.

The next month (July), the cut-off date leap-frogged approximately 5 months, slowed down to a month in August then fast-forwarded in September.  After that, the F1 cut-off stagnated for 3 months.

Then in December 2017, the cut-off date retrogressed by 2 years.

This year the priority dates for the F1 category have not returned to the January 1, 2007 date shown last year.

The F1 category for Philippine visa applicants jumped by 7 months in February 2018. As of this this month, the cut-off date is January 22, 2006.

The June 2018 Visa Bulletin shows the F1 cut-off date for Philippine applicants moved two months, but not still fast enough to have the applicant with retrogressed priority date from getting the consular interview schedule.

And only because monitoring and preparation of documents were not vigilantly observed.

In case you stopped monitoring the cut-off dates because of being disappointed by the retrogression you may miss not just your priority date but your entire visa petition as well.

Should your priority date become current and a year passed without applying for a visa, NVC will ask if you are still interested to migrate. If you either ignore or fail to express your interest, NVC and USCIS will terminate your application and destroy your visa petition file.

Instead of being back on track you will be back to square one.

Authors & Contributors

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

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