Immigrant Visa Waiting List

United States Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs


Most prospective immigrant visa applicants qualify for status under the law on the basis of family relationships or employer sponsorship. Entitlement to visa processing in these classes is established ordinarily through approval by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of a petition filed on the applicant's behalf. When such petitions are forwarded by INS to the Department of State, applicants in categories subject to numerical limit are registered on the visa waiting list. Each case is assigned a priority (i.e., registration) date based on the filing date accorded to the petition. Visa issuance within each numerically limited category is possible only if the applicant's place on the waiting list has been reached, i.e., the case priority date is within the visa availability dates published each month by the Department of State. Family and employment preference applicants compete for visa numbers within their respective categories on a worldwide basis according to priority date; a per-country limit on such preference immigrants set by INA 202 places a maximum on the amount of visas which may be issued in a single year to applicants from any one country, however.

The Department of State periodically asks consular offices at which immigrant visa cases are registered as well as the National Visa Center at Portsmouth, New Hampshire to report the totals of applicants on the waiting list in the various numerically-limited immigrant categories. (Visa Bulletin No. 49A, Vol. VII, contained a summary of the previous waiting list count.) Applications for adjustment of status under INA 245 which are pending at offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service are not included in the tabulation of the immigrant waiting list.

The figures below have been compiled from the reports submitted to the Department for the January 1997 count and show the number of immigrant visa applicants on the waiting list in the various preferences and subcategories subject to numerical limit. Provided for comparison are totals prepared following the previous tabulation in January 1995. All figures reflect persons registered under each respective numerical limitation, i.e., the totals represent not only principal applicants or petition beneficiaries, but their spouses and children entitled to derivative status under INA 203(d) as well.

   January l997 Totals  Increase/Decrease

   (and % of total January l995 From 1995 Totals

Category  registrants)  Totals (and % of change)

Family Prefs.:

FAMILY FIRST  93,376 ( 2.6%) 69,540 +23,836 (+34.3%)



 Children: 1,052,270 (29.0%) 1,138,544 -86,274 (- 7.6%)

 2B-Adult Sons/       

 Daughters:  578,351 (16.0%) 494,064 +84,287 (+17.1%)

 Pref. Total 1,630,621 (45.0%) 1,632,608 -1,987 (- 0.1%)

FAMILY THIRD  312,200 ( 8.6%) 260,414 +51,786 (+19.9%)

FAMILY FOURTH 1,502,233 (41.5%) 1,592,424 -90,191 (- 5.7%)

FAMILY TOTAL 3,538,430 (97.7%) 3,554,986 -16,556 (- 0.5%)

Employment Prefs.:

EMPL. FIRST 11,405 ( 0.3%) 9,361 +2,044 (+21.8%) EMPL. SECOND 9,527 ( 0.2%) 9,097 +430 (+ 4.7%) EMPL. THIRD Skilled Workers/ Baccalaureate Degree Holders: 35,030 ( 1.0%) 32,560 +2,470 (+ 7.6%) Other (i.e., Unskilled) Workers: 21,834 ( 0.6%) 78,946 -57,112 (-72.3%) Pref. Total 56,864 ( 1.6%) 111,506 -54,642 (-49.0%) EMPL. FOURTH 6,171 ( 0.2%)* 7,393* -1,222 (-16.5%) EMPL. FIFTH 500 (minimal)** 163** +337 (+207%) EMPL. TOTAL 84,467 ( 2.3%) 137,520 -53,053 (-38.6%) GRAND TOTAL 3,622,897 (100.%) 3,692,506 -69,609 (- 1.9%) *of which, certain religious workers in the classes established under the Immigration Act of 1990: 1997: 3,405; 1995: 3,331

**of which, investors in targeted employment areas: 1997: 359; 1995: 79

What is most noteworthy about the January 1997 family-sponsored preference total is not that it has decreased slightly (about 16,500, 0.5%), but that it has not grown significantly. The early 1990s saw a period of dramatic growth in family preference visa demand, resulting mainly from petition filing for spouses and children by beneficiaries of the 1986 legalization programs. The 1997 applicant total has hardly changed, however. The 2A component has declined, but there are now more 2B applicants registered. Naturalization of petitioners is probably a factor in the 2A decrease this year; naturalization automatically moves the beneficiaries off the waiting list into the "Immediate Relative" visa category which is exempt from numerical limit. The extended waiting period between second preference petition filing and visa availability currently provides ample time for naturalization of petitioners and such conversion of cases. Some of the 2B increase are children previously registered on the 2A waiting list who have subsequently turned 21 years of age; this moves their cases from 2A into the 2B class. A surprise in this year's tabulation is that the large volume of naturalizations since the 1995 count has not to date resulted in enough new petitions on the waiting list in the various preferences for relatives of U.S. citizens to cause a net increase in the family preference total.

The employment-based preferences as a group also show a decrease. This is due to a very substantial drop in "Other (unskilled) Worker" cases, most likely attributable to the long wait for visa availability in this immigrant class. The current seven year interlude from labor certification filing to the beneficiary's turn for a visa being reached may be discouraging both prospective employers and intending workers from pursuing "Other Worker" cases. With visas immediately available at present to almost all employment preference applicants apart form "Other Workers", most qualified applicants in these classes are able to proceed to prompt final action on their cases and do not need to spend a significant period on the waiting list.

Immigrant visa issuances during fiscal year 1997 are limited by the terms of INA 201 to no more than 226,000 in the family-sponsored preferences and to 140,000 in the employment-based preferences. (Visas for "Immediate Relatives" (i.e., spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21 years, and parents) of U.S. citizens are not subject to numerical limitation, however.)

It should by no means be assumed that once an applicant is registered, the case is then continually included in the waiting list totals unless and until a visa is issued. The consular procedures mandate a regular culling of visa cases to remove from the count those unlikely to see further action, so that totals are not unreasonably inflated. If, for example, a consular post receives no response within one year from an applicant to whom the visa application instruction letter (i.e., the consular "Packet 3" letter) is sent when the movement of the visa availability cut-off date indicates a visa may become available within a reasonable time frame, the case is considered "inactive" under the consular procedures and is no longer included in waiting list totals.

The fifteen countries/areas with the highest number of waiting list registrants are listed below; together these represent just over 81% of the total. This list includes all countries with at least 40,000 persons on the waiting list. Last year the same fifteen were also at the top of the listing by largest number of applicants, although the country order was slightly different. (The per-country limit in INA 202 sets an annual maximum on the amount of preference visas which may be issued to applicants from any one country; the 1997 per-country limit is 25,620.)

     1997 TOTAL 1995 TOTAL  

  MEXICO  1,050,823 1,039,706  

  PHILIPPINES  573,414 564,207  

  INDIA   243,159 254,333  

  CHINA-mainland born 235,176 207,489  

  DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 150,596 111,118  

  CHINA-Taiwan born 108,625 103,925  

  SOUTH KOREA  77,203 96,754  

  VIETNAM   75,568 167,051  

  EL SALVADOR  69,809 88,108  

  HAITI   69,221 71,808  

  HONG KONG  66,734 63,191  

  JAMAICA   60,575 64,024  

  POLAND   59,533 44,874  

  PAKISTAN  55,239 59,101  

  GUYANA   49,022 47,731  

  All Others  678,200 709,086  

  Worldwide Total 3,622,897 3,692,506  

The greatest change in a country total in this year's count has occurred in the figure for Vietnam. The explanation for the change is that, as indicated earlier, consular procedures require a regular removal from the waiting list of cases unlikely to see further visa action. The Vietnam figure reflects the result of a recent comprehensive updating of the immigrant waiting list for that country.

A breakdown of the worldwide waiting list by region is:



  Fam. Prefs. (% of Empl. Prefs. (% of Total (% of Total

   Family  Empl.  Waiting

   Total)  Total)  List)

Africa  68,745 ( 1.9%) 3,608 ( 4.3%) 72,353 ( 2.0%)

Asia  1,602,761 (45.3%) 43,204 (51.1%) 1,645,965 (45.4%)

Europe  133,219 ( 3.8%) 11,005 (13.0%) 144,224 ( 4.0%)

N. America* 1,566,452 (44.3%) 18,966 (22.5%) 1,585,418 (43.8%)

Oceania  14,338 ( 0.4%) 476 ( 0.6%) 14,814 ( 0.4%)

S. America 152,915 ( 4.3%) 7,208 ( 8.5%) 160,123 ( 4.4%)

Total  3,538,430 (100.%) 84,467 (100.%) 3,622,897 (100.%)

*North America includes Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.


Family FIRST Preference:

The worldwide Family FIRST preference numerical limitation is 23,400. The category has recently become oversubscribed, and this preference like all other family preferences now has a cut-off date for visa availability. Waiting list details are:

Fam. First	Percent of

		  Preference	 Category

	Country/Area 	  Total 	Waiting List

	PHILIPPINES	  57,658	 61.7%

	MEXICO	   9,685	 10.4%

	JAMAICA	   2,859	 3.1%


	Other Countries	  20,401	 21.8%

	Total   93,376	 100.0%

Cases are being added to the waiting list in this category not only by the approval of new FIRST preference petitions, but also through automatic conversion of pending 2B cases into FIRST preference upon the naturalization of the petitioner.

Given the more than half million Family 2B waiting list and the several years' interval between 2B petition filing and visa issuance, it is likely that increasing numbers of petitioners will be naturalized and convert the petitions to Family FIRST preference long before 2B visas become available. The prospect is for increasing oversubscription in the FIRST preference, with slower advances in the worldwide cut-off date the consequence. Two countries, Philippines and Mexico, have FIRST preference cut-off dates earlier than the worldwide date.

There is a unique aspect to visa availability for Philippines applicants in this preference. Under the terms of INA 202(e), immigrant numbers for oversubscribed countries are prorated among the various preferences. During FY 1997, there will be 1,638 Family FIRST preference numbers for Philippines. The waiting list for that country is already more than 35 times the annual visa limit, and the considerable demand will assure very slow cut-off date movement as far as can be foreseen. The Philippines cut-off date has advanced only five months during the past year. For Philippines applicants, the naturalization of petitioners who have filed Family 2B cases for their adult unmarried sons/daughters can in some instances have an adverse impact on those cases. Since under visa prorating there are more Philippines numbers available for the 2B class than for FIRST preference, the shift of a Philippines case from 2B (where the country cut-off date is more favorable than its FIRST preference counterpart) can result in a greatly increased delay before the would-be immigrant obtains a visa. Thus, there is a de facto disincentive toward naturalization for petitioners with adult unmarried sons/daughters from the Philippines who are waiting for a visa based on that family relationship.

Family SECOND Preference:

The total Family SECOND preference waiting list figure is 1,630,621. Of these, 1,052,270 (64.5%) are spouses and children of permanent residents of the United States (the 2A class), and 578,351 (35.5%) are adult unmarried sons/daughters of permanent residents (the 2B class). The Family SECOND preference represents 46% of the total Family preference waiting list. It will receive 114,200 visa numbers for FY 1997, just over half of the 226,000 family preference total; 77% of SECOND preference numbers are provided to 2A applicants, while the remaining 23% go to the 2B class.

2A: About 88,000 visa numbers are expected to be available during FY 1997. The countries with the highest 2A waiting list totals are:


		   Family 2A 	 Percent of

		   Preference	 Category

	Country/Area 	  Total 	Waiting List

	MEXICO   716,379	 68.1%


	HAITI	   30,827	 2.9%

	EL SALVADOR  	 27,768	 2.6%

	PHILIPPINES	  23,866	 2.3%

	CHINA-mainland born	 22,783	 2.2%

	INDIA	   13,222	 1.2%

	JAMAICA	   12,213	 1.2%

	GUATEMALA   11,679	 1.1%

	POLAND   10,156	 1.0%

	Other Countries  129,815	 12.3%

	Total   1,052,270	 100.0%

The major cause of the current lengthy Family 2A waiting list has been the filing of petitions for immediate family members by persons legalized under the terms of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Since persons from Mexico comprised about three-quarters of the legalization beneficiaries, it is not surprising to find that Mexico cases represent so large a part of the 2A list. Almost all legalization beneficiaries who intend to file petitions for applicants in this visa class have probably done so by now.

The 1990 Act increased the number of visas for the 2A class, and provided a greater equalization of the visa waiting period for applicants from all countries. At present, only Mexico has a visa cut-off date earlier than that for other countries. It is apparent, however, that the large waiting list assures continued oversubscription and a considerable delay between the filing of a petition and the applicant's turn for visa issuance being reached.

One result of the extended wait for a 2A visa is that some of the children (i.e., under 21 years of age) registered in this class will not be reached for visas before their 21st birthday. In such situation, they are automatically moved into the 2B class (for unmarried adult sons/daughters of permanent residents) as soon as they turn 21. The wait for a 2B visa is even longer than in 2A.

The more than four year interval between petition filing and visa issuance makes likely that many petitioners will be naturalized before 2A visa numbers become available for their spouses and children. Upon naturalization of the petitioner, a pending 2A case is converted automatically into the "Immediate Relative" visa category, which is not subject to numerical limit and in which, therefore, there is no visa waiting period. As a result, a substantial "Immediate Relative" visa increase over the next few years is expected, with a corresponding drop in the Family 2A waiting list.

2B: Visa numbers for this class of adult sons and daughters are expected to total about 26,000 during FY 1997. The waiting list far exceeds the annual limit. Applicant totals are:

		   Family 2B 	 Percent of

		   Preference	 Category

	Country/Area 	  Total	Waiting List

	MEXICO  	 140,939	 24.4%

	DOMINICAN REPUBLIC	 71,149	 12.3%

	PHILIPPINES 	 46,381	 8.0%

	CHINA-mainland born 	 27,164	 4.7%

	HAITI   26,644  4.6%

	EL SALVADOR  22,124  3.8%

	JAMAICA   21,808  3.8%

	INDIA   18,331  3.2%

	GUYANA   16,828  2.9%

	VIETNAM   10,952  1.9%

	CHINA-Taiwan born  10,308  1.8%

	Other Countries  165,723  28.6%

	Total   578,351  100.0%

As noted above, some of the additional 2B cases are applicants moved out of the 2A class upon their turning 21. There were also some 2B cases transferred into the FIRST preference upon naturalization of the petitioner. The worldwide Family 2B cut-off date has advanced only about five months during the past year.

The combination of limited visa availability for 2B applicants under the terms of the law and growing applicant demand indicated by the substantially greater waiting list (up more than 84,000 [17%] in the past year) means slow movement of this visa cut-off date and an increasingly long wait for a 2B visa.

Family THIRD Preference:

The annual visa limit is 23,400. Two oversubscribed countries (Philippines and Mexico) have sufficiently heavy demand in this preference to require a cut-off date substantially earlier than the worldwide date. Countries with highest registrations are:

		   Fam. Third	 Percent of

		   Preference	 Category

	Country/Area 	  Total 	Waiting List

	PHILIPPINES  158,619	 50.8%

	MEXICO   37,763	 12.1%

	POLAND   21,780	 7.0%

	CHINA-mainland born 11,531	 3.7%

	INDIA   10,766	 3.4%

	Other Countries  71,741	 23.0%

	Total   312,200	 100.0%

During the past year, the Family THIRD preference worldwide cut-off date advanced about six months. The increasing applicant demand makes likely a gradually lengthening wait for a visa in the years ahead.

Family FOURTH Preference:

Applicants registered in the Family FOURTH preference total 1,502,233. Annual visa issuances are limited to 65,000. Because of the demand so much in excess of available visas, the waiting period is longer than in any other category. The countries listed below have the largest number of FOURTH preference applicants:


		   Fam. Fourth	 Percent of

		   Preference	 Category

	Country/Area 	  Total 	Waiting List

	PHILIPPINES  272,149	 18.1%

	INDIA   195,410	 13.0%

	CHINA-mainland born 165,178	 11.0%

	MEXICO   142,043	 9.4%

	CHINA-Taiwan born  90,068	 6.0%

	HONG KONG   55,091	 3.7%

	SOUTH KOREA   54,967	 3.7%

	VIETNAM   48,210	 3.2%

	PAKISTAN   38,968	 2.6%

	Other Countries  440,149	 29.3%

	Total   1,502,233	 100.0%

The steadily growing waiting period in this preference, now approaching eleven years for countries of most favorable visa availability and even longer for some oversubscribed countries, appears to have discouraged new petition filing, and the result has been a relatively constant FOURTH preference applicant figure in the recent past. This January's preference total is just below the figure for 1990.

The worldwide Family FOURTH preference cut-off date advanced about eight months during the past year. Applicant registrations so much in excess of the annual visa limit assure that cut-off dates in the preference are likely to continue to move slowly. Estimated FY 1997 Family FOURTH preference visa issuances under the per-country limit for the three countries with the earliest cut-off dates are: Philippines 4,550; India 9,000; Mexico 6,000. A comparison of these figures with their waiting list totals illustrates the extent of oversubscription and the inevitable very slow progress expected in the cut-off dates.


The employment-based categories were extensively revised by the 1990 Act and the numerical limits were considerably increased, from a total of 54,000 for the former third and sixth preferences to 140,000 for the entire new series of employment preferences. Before the provisions of the 1990 Act took effect, the former third and sixth preferences had been oversubscribed; for most countries, the Employment FIRST and SECOND preferences and the skilled worker/professional segment of THIRD preference became "current" in October 1991 and remain so. With employment preference visas now readily available for most qualified applicants (except for those in the Other [i.e., unskilled] Worker category), it is not surprising that the employment waiting list total has in fact been declining, since applicants in most categories can move expeditiously from petition to visa issuance. It is also important to note that most employment preference immigrants are adjustment of status cases at INS offices. Cases pending with INS are not counted in the consular waiting list tally. Thus, in several employment categories the waiting list understates real immigrant demand. During FY 1996, more than 118,000 employment preference visa numbers were actually used by applicants.

The Employment waiting list counts not only prospective workers, but also their spouses and children entitled under the law to derivative preference status.

Employment FIRST Preference:

As of January, registrations in this category were 11,405 against a FY 1997 limit of 40,040 (28.6% of 140,000), plus any unused numbers from the Employment FOURTH and FIFTH preferences, which fall "up" to FIRST. This year's registration total is up 2,044 (21.8%) from the FIRST preference total in the 1995 count. Top countries are:


		  Empl. First 	 Percent of

		   Preference	 Category

	Country/Area 	  Total 	Waiting List

	CANADA   1,838	 16.1%

	CHINA-mainland born 1,620	 14.2%


	 NORTHERN IRELAND  1,234	 10.8%

	INDIA   547	 4.8%

	CHINA-Taiwan born  527	 4.6%

	Other Countries  5,639	 49.5%

	Total   11,405	 100.0%

Visa availability is "current" for all countries. During FY 1996, 28,638 numbers were used in this preference; FY 1997 number use is likely to be no more than that figure, with about one-third to one-half of Employment FIRST preference numbers falling to the SECOND preference.

Employment SECOND Preference:

The FY 1997 visa limit is 40,040 plus unused numbers from the FIRST preference. The waiting list shows only a slight increase since the last count. There are three countries with more than 1,000 applicants registered in the SECOND preference category:


     Empl. Second Percent of

		   Preference	 Category

	Country/Area 	  Total 	Waiting List

	PHILIPPINES  2,130	 22.4%

	INDIA   1,650	 17.3%

	CANADA   1,003	 10.5%

	Other Countries	  4,744	 49.8%

	Total   9,527	 100.0%

This category is "current" at present for virtually all chargeabilities. Visa demand is well below the category limit. During FY 1996, 19,089 numbers were used by SECOND preference applicants.

Employment THIRD Preference:

The preference is entitled to 28.6% of the 140,000 FY 1997 Employment numbers, i.e., 40,040, plus the unused numbers from the category above. INA 203(b)(3)(B) specifies that no more than 10,000 of these numbers may be provided to applicants in the "Other [i.e., unskilled] Worker" subcategory, however.

The Employment THIRD preference waiting list components for "Skilled Workers" (i.e., at least two years of training or experience required for labor certification) and "Professionals with Baccalaureate Degree" total 35,030 (just over 60% of all registrations in the preference). This figure is up by 2,470 from last year's total. The category is "current" at the present time for all countries except India, where the per-country limit on issuances makes necessary a visa cut-off date. Countries with the highest number of applicants are:


		   Empl. Third 	  

		   Preference:	 Percent of

		   Skilled Wkr/	Waiting List

		   Professional 	 in These 

	Country/Area  Components	 Classes

	PHILIPPINES   9,763	 27.9%

	CHINA-mainland born  4,549	 13.0%

	SOUTH KOREA   2,036	 5.8%

	INDIA   1,937	 5.5%

	MEXICO   1,670	 4.8%

	POLAND   1,216	 3.5%

	EL SALVADOR   919	 2.6%

	CHINA-Taiwan born  733	 2.1%

	CANADA   705	 2.0%

	Other Countries 	 11,502	 32.8%

	Total  	 35,030	 100.0%

Other Workers: Applicants within this segment of the Employment THIRD preference amount to 21,834, i.e., nearly 40% of the THIRD preference total. The figure includes not just the workers themselves, but (as in all other preference categories) derivative spouses and children as well, who are entitled to the same status and order of consideration as the principal under INA 203(d). As noted above, the annual limit set by law for issuances to this component of THIRD preference is 10,000. It is the one element within the Employment preferences which has been consistently oversubscribed. The Other Worker applicant total has dropped considerably over the past year, perhaps because the long (currently about seven year) wait for a visa has helped to discourage new cases and has given persons previously registered time to reconsider their employment and immigration plans.

Countries with the most registrations are:


		   Empl. Third	 Percent of

		   Preference: 	Waiting List

		   Other Worker	 in This 

	Country/Area 	  Component 	 Class

	EL SALVADOR  2,586	 11.9%

	PHILIPPINES  2,197	 10.1%

	SOUTH KOREA  2,104	 9.6%

	MEXICO   1,795	 8.2%


	CHINA-mainland born	 923	 4.2%

	BOLIVIA   808	 3.7%

	GUYANA   766	 3.5%

	GUATEMALA   705	 3.2%

	Other Countries  8,549	 39.2%

	Total   21,834	 100.0%

The THIRD preference used a total of 62,275 numbers in FY 1996. The estimated number use during FY 1997 will probably be about the same. In view of the anticipated fall into this preference of many thousands of numbers from above, visas can be expected to remain "current" in the immediate future for most applicants within the "Skilled Worker" and "Professional" components.

In the "Other Worker" subcategory, with visa demand well in excess of the 10,000 annual limit, a significant wait for a visa must be expected to continue for the indefinite future.

Employment FOURTH Preference:

The worldwide FY 1997 visa limit (7.1% of 140,000) is 9,940 in this preference for "Certain Special Immigrants". Only 6,171 applicants were counted in the January 1997 waiting list tally, 3,405 of whom in the classes for "certain religious workers" established under INA 101(a)(27)(C)(ii)(II) and (III). During FY 1996, the preference used a total of 7,240 numbers, of which 4,046 went to "certain religious workers".

For special immigrants OTHER THAN "certain religious workers", the preference is expected to remain "current" for applicants from all countries. Under current law, the visa classifications for "certain religious workers" are due to expire on September 30, 1997. This may result in a rush of applicants attempting to finalize action on their cases before that date. No more than 5,000 Employment FOURTH preference numbers may be used for such applicants in any fiscal year. An increase in demand during the second half of FY 1997 could oversubscribe the visas for "certain religious workers"; a visa allocation cut-off date would then be needed, and the 5,000 numbers for these applicants could be exhausted even before September 30. (Note: Ministers of religion are a permanent special immigrant class under the law, and are NOT included within the "certain religious worker" classes due to expire as of September 30, 1997.)

Employment FIFTH Preference:

The FY 1997 limit is 9,940. There are 500 applicants currently registered on the visa waiting list, 359 of whom are investors in "targeted areas". The four chargeabilities with the greatest number of registrants (China-Taiwan born: 164, China-mainland born: 109, South Korea: 96, and Hong Kong: 41) together represent 82% of the waiting list.

During FY 1996, 934 Employment FIFTH preference numbers were used, 520 of which by investors in "targeted areas". Visas are available at present for applicants from all countries. Any unused numbers from this annual limit fall up to Employment FIRST preference.

CA/VO:March 7, 1997

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