Following the restrictions in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting backlog of immigrant visa applications, U.S. consulates and embassies have prioritized applications in an effort to reduce that backlog. The U.S. Department of State has revealed specifically how these facilities are prioritizing applications as travel and operational restrictions are lifted.
Prioritizing Immigrant Visa Services
Posts responsible for processing immigrant and nonimmigrant visas are focusing more on immigrant visa applications. However, they are still providing certain nonimmigrant visa services. The specific type and volume of the visa cases that consulates and embassies process depends on local conditions, which could include host country governments’ restrictions on movement and gathering.
Another factor that is affecting immigrant visa application processing is the safety precautions that U.S. consulates and embassies have implemented. Visitors and staff in these facilities practice social distancing and other measures that have limited the number of applications that staff are able to process on a daily basis.
Emphasis on Family Immigration
While the U.S. Department of State recognizes the importance of every visa category, the agency has focused more on providing visa services for immigrant families. The limited number of applications consular sections can process has forced a shift toward family reunification as a top priority, as detailed in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
In an effort to reunite immigrant families, the Department of State has adopted a policy of processing immediate relative visa applicants, along with K-1 fiancées of American citizens. Family preference immigrant visa applicants take third priority in this list.
To help facilitate this, the Department of State has adopted a tiered approach to visa applications according to categories:
- Tier One — This group includes immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, along with cases in which applicants will no longer qualify for these visas because of age restrictions. Additionally, some Special Immigrant Visas fall under this tier, such as SI and SQ for Iraqi and Afghan nationals.
- Tier Two — This tier includes immediate relative visas, returning resident visas, and fiance visas.
- Tier Three — This covers family preference immigrant visas and some U.S. government employees working abroad through SE Special Immigrant Visas.
- Tier Four — This tier addresses all other categories such as diversity and employment preference visas.
The Department of State has implemented this prioritization to help reduce the backlog in all categories and maintain the efficacy of the immigration process.