Understanding U.S. Immigrant Visa Interview Schedule Fluctuations

The U.S. immigrant visa interview schedule has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the first wave of COVID-19-induced family-based family retrogression. And to 273,263 Filipino immigrant visa applicants, a whiff of an update to the U.S. Embassy Manila interview schedule is a source of anxiety.

Why is my U.S. immigrant visa interview taking so long?

Collective panic ensues at rumors of retrogression. Indeed, 494,289 documentarily qualified applicants have cases that have been stuck at the National Visa Center since April 2021. And they have been asking questions about U.S. immigrant visa interview schedule fluctuations.

Documentarily qualified or DQ applicants in the family-preference categories have paid visa and Affidavit of Support fees. These individuals have also completed their DS 260 immigrant visa applications and uploaded their civil documents and other interview credentials.

With application fees at US$325 for the principal applicant and each derivative beneficiary, who could blame DQ applicants for being nervous whenever the Department of State publishes the Visa Bulletin?

The DQ total did not remain static during the pandemic.

Two months into the pandemic in 2000, 494,289 documentarily qualified (DQ) applicants were already in NVC’s Consular Electronic Application Center or CEAC. These individuals were ready for interview and waiting for their consular appointment dates. However, the NVC scheduled a mere 18,979 DQ applicants for immigrant visa interviews at U.S. consular posts worldwide.

While the pandemic disrupted the operations of embassies and consulates worldwide, the USCIS continued processing petitions and endorsing the approved cases to the NVC. Hence, the DQ total did not remain static.

The backlog of DQ applicants increased from April 2021 to April 2022

The first NVC backlog report in April 2021 puts the monthly average of applicants in 2019 at 60,866. These individuals were waiting for their interview schedules.

In April 2022, the NVC barely moved the backlog needle as it still had 453,797 DQ applicants waiting for their U.S. immigrant visa interview schedule. The number of visas issued increased to 32,439, leaving 421,358 in the NVC’s visa scheduling room.

Complicating the CEAC scheduling during the COVID-19 months were the recurring lockdowns and cancellation of appointments as the U.S. Embassy suffered from staffing shortages and limited facilities.


Visa Bulletin Predictions and the CEAC Backlog

What are the chances of visas moving forward in the following months?

The State Department issues the available visas annually per country before the next allocation round.

The total visas the State Department has allocated from October 1, 2023, to September 31, 2024, shows the following figures per family category:
• F1 – 1,638
• F2A – 6,151
• F2B – 1,838
• F3 – 1,638
• F4 – 4,555.

Most people know the NVC issues visas based on the earliest priority date on the State Department’s Visa Bulletin. Do you depend on interview forecasts? If you do, remember that retrogression is a significant factor that disrupts algorithms used in visa bulletin predictions.

Timely submission of credentials is also crucial. The NVC will queue applicants who complied with their interview requirements earlier than those who submit their credentials later. Therefore, companies predicting your waiting time will have to consider that.

Let’s say that five applicants have the same priority date. In case of retrogression of a priority date, the NVC will prioritize the DQ applicant ahead of the rest.

Not making it to an interview date further complicates matters. This is because the NVC will now have to add your case back into their visa issuance schedule.

So, as an immigrant visa applicant, stay on top of matters by processing your interview requirements without delay. And be at the consular post for your interview before your time in case you meet snags along the way.

The Good News is that the NVC has reduced the number of DQ applicants.

The good news is that the NVC has worked through a number of NVC DQ applicants worldwide by November 2023. In fact, they have reduced the number to 273,263.

However, Philippine DQ applicants who have waited for years still need an answer to their burning question: “How long would I have to wait for my interview date?”

The answer is encrypted on the Embassy page on Visa Operations Update for Immigrant Visas: Immigrant Visa (IV):

"We are processing immigrant visas across all categories. However, with significant backlogs in most categories, wait times for interviews are lengthy for all but immediate relatives. It is not possible to provide precise wait times as facilities, staffing resources, and local conditions all affect capacity and scheduling."

In short, the Embassy does not – and cannot provide – or even predict when anyone will be interviewed.