The biggest misconception with submitting an application with the USCIS is that processing begins immediately upon submission. In reality, even once the application has been accepted for review, the processing may not begin until months or even years after the submission date. This is due to caps that are placed on certain immigrant and non-immigrant categories. Once the cap has been reached within that year’s review period, review of all pending application is put on hold until the following year’s review period opens. At that point, application review resumes where the previous year left off with applications that have the earliest priority date. The priority date is the date that the USCIS receives the application; this is also the dated provided on the application receipt. Thus, priority dates, determine how soon your application will be reviewed.
There is only one class of immigrants whose priority date is always current (there is no annual cap on how many visas are permitted in this category): the spouse or fiancé(e) of a U.S citizen (K visa). If you are a spouse of a U.S. citizen, you may have your spouse petition for your permanent resident status as well as adjust your status from an immigrant to a permanent resident at the same time. Even though this process notes that a visa is “readily available”, it still takes 6 – 9 months to go through the entire application process.
All other classes of immigrants are subject to the annual cap. To determine when an application will be processed, an applicant can refer to the monthly Visa Bulletin on the USCIS website: https://www.travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5674.html.
In order to understand the bulletin, you must first determine which category you fall under. For example, if you are the spouse or child of a U.S. Permanent Resident, you should have applied for an F-2A visa. This particular visa category has a separate cap for mainland China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. Applicants from all other countries fall under the general cap for the F-2A visa category.
The F-2A category has a cap of 114,200 approved applications per year. (F-2A applications can also pull from unused F-1 numbers. For example, if, at the end of the review period, the number of issued visa in the F-1 category fell short of its cap by 100, then the F-2A category would allow for 100 more approved application that year.)
At the time of this article, the projected April 2012 Visa Bulletin for the F-2A visa category listed ‘08OCT09’ as the priority date for the general cap, as well as for mainland China, India and the Philippines, and a priority date of ‘01SEP09’ for Mexico. This means that only applications that were submitted before October 8, 2009 are being processed (except for Mexico, where only applications before September 1, 2009 are being processed). As you can see, there is quite a delay in the processing (currently 2.5 years) so it is important to be prepared for the long wait times and apply as soon as you are eligible and able to do so.
The priority date changes regularly, which is why the USCIS posts a monthly bulletin. The change is affected by the number of pending applications, how quickly the USICIS processes applications and how many of the processed applications are granted visas.
Once your application falls within the priority date, it is ready to be processed. You will only be notified by the USCIS of the outcome of its review of your application on a filing receipt, which will inform you of your next course of action (whether they need more information, to schedule an interview etc.).
If you are unsure of what your priority date is or would like to know what options are available to you, contact an immigration attorney.