THE OPERATION OF THE IMMIGRANT NUMERICAL CONTROL SYSTEM

The Department of State is
responsible for administering the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality
Act (INA) relating to the numerical limitations on immigrant visa issuances.
This information sheet explains the operation of the immigrant number allotment
and control system.

1. HOW THE SYSTEM OPERATES:

At the beginning of each
month, the Visa Office (VO) receives a report from each consular post listing
totals of documentarily qualified immigrant visa applicants in categories
subject to numerical limitation. Cases are grouped by foreign state chargeability/preference/priority
date.

 No names are reported. During
the first week of each month, this documentarily qualified demand is tabulated.
VO subdivides the annual preference and foreign state limitations specified by
the INA into monthly allotments. The totals of documentarily qualified
applicants which have been reported to VO, are compared each month with the
numbers available for the next regular allotment.  The determination of how many numbers are
available requires consideration of several of variables, including:  past number use; estimates of future number
use and return rates; and estimates of Citizenship and Immigration Service
demand based on cut-off date movements. 
Once this is done, the cut-off dates are established and numbers are
allocated to reported applicants in order 
of their priority dates, the
oldest dates first.

 If there are sufficient
numbers in a particular category to satisfy all reported documentarily qualified
demand, the category is considered “Current”. For example: If the
monthly allocation target is 3,000 and we only have demand for 1,000 applicants
the category can be “Current”.

Whenever the total of
documentarily qualified applicants in a category exceeds the supply of numbers
available for allotment for the particular month, the category is considered to
be “oversubscribed” and a visa availability cut-off date is
established. The cut-off date is the priority date of the first documentarily
qualified applicant who could not be accommodated for a visa number. For
example: If the monthly target is 3,000 and we have demand for 8,000 applicants,
then we would need to establish a cut-off date so that only 3,000 numbers would
be allocated.  In this case, the cut-off
would be the priority date of the 3,001st applicant.

Only persons with a priority
date earlier than a cut-off date are entitled to allotment of a visa number.
The cut-off dates are the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd of a month, since VO groups
demand for numbers under these dates. (Priority dates of the first through
seventh of a month are grouped under the 1st, the eighth through the fourteenth
under the 8th, etc.) VO attempts to establish the cut-off dates for the
following month on or about the 8th of each month. The dates are immediately
transmitted to consular posts and Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS),
and also published in the Visa Bulletin and online at the CA Web site (www.travel.state.gov).  Visa allotments for use during that month are
transmitted to consular posts.  CIS
requests visa allotments for adjustment of status cases only when all other
case processing has been completed.

 2. DEFINITION OF SOME TERMS:

Priority date:

Normally, the date on which
the petition to accord the applicant immigrant status was filed.

Allotment:

The allocation of an immigrant
number to a consular office or to CIS. 
This number may be used for visa issuance or adjustment of status.

Foreign State Chargeability:

Ordinarily, an immigrant is
chargeable for visa purposes to the numerical limitation for the foreign state
or dependent area in which the immigrant’s place of birth is located. Exceptions
are provided for a child (unmarried and under 21 years of age) or spouse
accompanying or following to join a principal to prevent the separation of
family members, as well as for an applicant born in the U.S. or in a foreign
state of which neither parent was a native or resident. Alternate chargeability
is desirable when the visa cut-off date for the foreign state of a parent or
spouse is more advantageous than that of the applicant’s foreign state.

Documentarily Qualified:

The applicant has obtained all
documents specified by the consular officer as sufficient to meet the formal
visa application requirements, and necessary processing procedures of the
consular office have been completed.

 

3.  BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE SYSTEM AND
CLARIFICATION OF SOME FREQUENTLY MISUNDERSTOOD POINTS:

Applicants entitled to
immigrant status become documentarily qualified at their own initiative and
convenience. By no means has every applicant with a priority date earlier than
a prevailing cut-off date been processed for final visa action. On the
contrary, visa allotments are made only on the basis of the total applicants
reported documentarily qualified each month. Demand for visa numbers can
fluctuate from one month to another, with the inevitable impact on cut-off dates. 

If an applicant is reported
documentarily qualified but allocation of a visa number is not possible because
of a visa availability cut-off date, the demand is recorded at VO and an
allocation is made as soon as the applicable cut-off date advances beyond the
applicant’s priority date. There is no need for such applicant to be reported a
second time.

Visa numbers are always
allotted for all documentarily qualified applicants with a priority date before
the relevant cut-off date, as long as the case had been reported to VO in time
to be included in the monthly calculation of visa availability. Failure of visa
number receipt by the overseas processing office could mean that the request
was not dispatched in time to reach VO for the monthly allocation cycle, or
that information on the request was incomplete or inaccurate (e.g., incorrect
priority date).Allocations to Foreign Service posts outside the regular monthly
cycle are possible in emergency or exceptional cases, but only at the request
of the office processing the case. Note that should retrogression of a cut-off
date be announced, VO can honor extraordinary requests for additional numbers
only if the applicant’s priority date is earlier than the retrogressed cut-off
date. Not all numbers allocated are actually used for visa issuance; some are
returned to VO and are reincorporated into the pool of numbers available for
later allocation during the fiscal year. The rate of return of unused numbers
may fluctuate from month to month, just as demand may fluctuate. Lower returns
mean fewer numbers available for subsequent reallocation. Fluctuations can
cause cut-off date movement to slow, stop, or even retrogress. Retrogression is
particularly possible near the end of the fiscal year as visa issuance
approaches the annual limitations.

Per-country limit: The annual
per-country limitation of 7% is a cap, which visa issuances to any single
country may not exceed. Applicants compete for visas primarily on a worldwide
basis. The country limitation serves to avoid monopolization of virtually all
the annual limitation by applicants from only a few countries. This limitation
is not a quota to which any particular country is entitled, however.  A portion of the numbers provided to the
Family Second preference category are exempt from this per-country cap. 

The American Competitiveness
in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21) removed the per-country limit in any
calendar quarter in which overall applicant demand for Employment-based visa
numbers is less than the total of such numbers available.

Applicability of Section
202(e): When visa demand by documentarily qualified applicants from a particular
country exceeds the amount of numbers available under the annual numerical limitation,
that country is considered to be oversubscribed. 

Oversubscription may require
the establishment of a cut-off date which is earlier than that which applies to
a particular visa category on a worldwide basis. The prorating of numbers for
an oversubscribed country follows the same percentages specified for the
division of the worldwide annual limitation among thepreferences. (Note that
visa availability cut-off dates for oversubscribed areas may not be later than
worldwide cut-off dates, if any, for the respective preferences.)

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