04 May 2021

United States

State Department Assigns Priority Tiers for Immigrant Visas

The U.S. Department of State is working to reduce the backlog of immigrant visa applications that accrued over the past year due to travel restrictions and resource limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Operational constraints have forced the Department to triage consular services, and the guidance principles for the Department’s prioritization reflect Congressional determination that immediate relatives and K-1 fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens are particularly important, followed by family preference immigrant visas.  

Consistent with the objectives of Congress and President Biden’s Executive Orders, U.S. embassies and consulates are using a four-tiered approach to prioritize immigrant visa processing.  

  • Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), and certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government) 
  • Tier Two: Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas 
  • Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad 
  • Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas 

Wherever possible, consular posts will schedule at least some appointments within all four priority tiers every month. However, officers are instructed to maximize limited resources to accommodate as many Tier One and Tier Two cases as possible with the goal of reducing the current backlog or at least preventing it from growing in these categories, while still scheduling and adjudicating some Tier Three and Four cases each month.  

Applicants will face continued delays as U.S. embassies and consulates continue reopening and resuming visa services. Given the constraints that remain in place, the Department has stated that the number of immigrant visas issued in lower-priority preference categories and in the diversity visa program likely will not approach their statutory ceilings in Fiscal Year 2021, which ends on September 30, 2021. 

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The content above is provided for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. Use of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. 

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