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How U.S. visas are allocated worldwide

The U.S. admits about 1 million immigrants yearly, a situation that President Donald Trump and the Republican Party considers unacceptable. A bill has been proposed to cut legal migration in half.

Crispin ArandaOriginally posted on March 19, 2018; updated March 19, 2018

How U.S. visas are allocated worldwide


For a simplified, slide presentation of the annual visa allocation, click here - https://www.facebook.com/IVCmigration/photos/pcb.1871606019524783/1871605016191550/?type=3&theater


The Department of State is responsible for administering the provisions of the Immigration and

Nationality Act (INA) relating to the numerical limitations on immigrant visa issuances. This

information sheet explains the operation of the immigrant number allotment and control system.


At the beginning of each month, the Visa Office (VO) receives a report from each consular post

listing totals of documentarily qualified immigrant visa applicants in categories subject to

numerical limitation. Cases are grouped by foreign state chargeability/preference/priority date.

No names are reported. During the first week of each month, this documentarily qualified

demand is tabulated.


VO subdivides the annual preference and foreign state limitations specified by the INA into

monthly allotments. The totals of documentarily qualified applicants which have been reported

to VO, are compared each month with the numbers available for the next regular allotment. The

determination of how many numbers are available requires consideration of several of variables,

including: past number use; estimates of future number use and return rates; and estimates of

Citizenship and Immigration Service demand based on cut-off date movements. Once this is

done, the cut-off dates are established and numbers are allocated to reported applicants in order

of their priority dates, the oldest dates first.


If there are sufficient numbers in a particular category to satisfy all reported documentarily

qualified demand, the category is considered "Current". For example: If the monthly allocation

target is 3,000 and we only have demand for 1,000 applicants the category can be "Current”.


Whenever the total of documentarily qualified applicants in a category exceeds the supply of

numbers available for allotment for the particular month, the category is considered to be

"oversubscribed" and a visa availability cut-off date is established. The cut-off date is the

priority date of the first documentarily qualified applicant who could not be accommodated for a

visa number. For example: If the monthly target is 3,000 and we have demand for 8,000

applicants, then we would need to establish a cut-off date so that only 3,000 numbers would be

allocated. In this case, the cut-off would be the priority date of the 3,001st applicant.


Only persons with a priority date earlier than a cut-off date are entitled to allotment of a visa

number. The cut-off dates are the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd of a month, since VO groups demand

for numbers under these dates. (Priority dates of the first through seventh of a month are grouped

under the 1st, the eighth through the fourteenth under the 8th, etc.)

VO attempts to establish the cut-off dates for the following month on or about the 8th of each month. The dates are immediately transmitted to consular posts and Citizenship and Immigration

Services (CIS), and also published in the Visa Bulletin and online at the CA Web site

(www.travel.state.gov). Visa allotments for use during that month are transmitted to consular

posts. CIS requests visa allotments for adjustment of status cases only when all other case

processing has been completed.


Priority date:

Normally, the date on which the petition to accord the applicant immigrant status was filed.


The allocation of an immigrant number to a consular office or to CIS. This number may be used

for visa issuance or adjustment of status.


Foreign State Chargeability:

Ordinarily, an immigrant is chargeable for visa purposes to the numerical limitation for the

foreign state or dependent area in which the immigrant's place of birth is located. Exceptions are

provided for a child (unmarried and under 21 years of age) or spouse accompanying or following

to join a principal to prevent the separation of family members, as well as for an applicant born

in the U.S. or in a foreign state of which neither parent was a native or resident. Alternate

chargeability is desirable when the visa cut-off date for the foreign state of a parent or spouse is

more advantageous than that of the applicant's foreign state.


Documentarily Qualified:

The applicant has obtained all documents specified by the consular officer as sufficient to meet

the formal visa application requirements, and necessary processing procedures of the consular

office have been completed.




Applicants entitled to immigrant status become documentarily qualified at their own initiative

and convenience. By no means has every applicant with a priority date earlier than a prevailing

cut-off date been processed for final visa action. On the contrary, visa allotments are made only

on the basis of the total applicants reported documentarily qualified each month. Demand for

visa numbers can fluctuate from one month to another, with the inevitable impact on cut-off



If an applicant is reported documentarily qualified but allocation of a visa number is not possible

because of a visa availability cut-off date, the demand is recorded at VO and an allocation is

made as soon as the applicable cut-off date advances beyond the applicant's priority date. There

is no need for such applicant to be reported a second time.


Visa numbers are always allotted for all documentarily qualified applicants with a priority date

before the relevant cut-off date, as long as the case had been reported to VO in time to be

included in the monthly calculation of visa availability. Failure of visa number receipt by the

overseas processing office could mean that the request was not dispatched in time to reach VO

for the monthly allocation cycle, or that information on the request was incomplete or inaccurate

(e.g., incorrect priority date).

Allocations to Foreign Service posts outside the regular monthly cycle are possible in emergency

or exceptional cases, but only at the request of the office processing the case. Note that should

retrogression of a cut-off date be announced, VO can honor extraordinary requests for additional

numbers only if the applicant's priority date is earlier than the retrogressed cut-off date.


Not all numbers allocated are actually used for visa issuance; some are returned to VO and are

reincorporated into the pool of numbers available for later allocation during the fiscal year. The

rate of return of unused numbers may fluctuate from month to month, just as demand may

fluctuate. Lower returns mean fewer numbers available for subsequent reallocation. Fluctuations

can cause cut-off date movement to slow, stop, or even retrogress. Retrogression is particularly

possible near the end of the fiscal year as visa issuance approaches the annual limitations.


Per-country limit: The annual per-country limitation of 7% is a cap, which visa issuances to any

single country may not exceed. Applicants compete for visas primarily on a worldwide basis.


The country limitation serves to avoid monopolization of virtually all the annual limitation by

applicants from only a few countries. This limitation is not a quota to which any particular

country is entitled, however. A portion of the numbers provided to the Family Second

preference category are exempt from this per-country cap. The American Competitiveness in the

Twenty-First Century Act (AC21) removed the per-country limit in any calendar quarter in

which overall applicant demand for Employment-based visa numbers is less than the total of

such numbers available.

Applicability of Section 202(e): When visa demand by documentarily qualified applicants from a

particular country exceeds the amount of numbers available under the annual numerical

limitation, that country is considered to be oversubscribed. Oversubscription may require the

establishment of a cut-off date which is earlier than that which applies to a particular visa

category on a worldwide basis. The prorating of numbers for an oversubscribed country follows

the same percentages specified for the division of the worldwide annual limitation among the

preferences. (Note that visa availability cut-off dates for oversubscribed areas may not be later

than worldwide cut-off dates, if any, for the respective preferences.)

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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