State Department Publishes Statistics on FY17 Immigrant Visa Waiting List

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) adjudicates visa applications for aspiring immigrants whose cases will be processed at a U.S. embassy or consulate overseas – that is to say, foreign nationals applying for lawful permanent residency (i.e. “green cards”) at an embassy or consulate, rather than applying for adjustment of status (form I-485) from within the United States. The DOS visa waiting list tracks the number of applicants in immigrant visa categories that are subject to numerical limits. To that end, the National Visa Center (NVC) provides an annual report with statistics on the number of immigrant visa applicants on the waiting list, including both family-based and employment-based applicants and their respective spouses / dependents. The latest report, which is based on pending cases as of November 1, 2016, shows that the overall wait list dropped 4.1 percent from the same point last year. While family-based cases dropped 4.4 percent, however, the waiting list in employment-based cases grew by 6.7 percent.

Growth in Waiting List in Employment-Based (EB) Categories

The waiting list growth for employment-based visas reflects the growing backlog of such cases. Indian nationals account for 32,302 of the 107,479 applicants on the employment-based waiting list for fiscal year 2017 (FY17), which runs from October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017. At 30.1 percent, India is the largest country group represented on the list. The limit on the maximum number of employment-based immigrant visas that may be issued to applicants from any one country in FY17 is 9,800. The DOS reports the following numbers for each employment-based preference category as of November 1, 2016.

  • First preference: 3,801 applicants are on the FY17 waiting list compared to 3,474 in fiscal year 2016 (FY16), an increase of 9.4 percent.
  • Second preference: 14,370 applicants are on the waiting list in FY17, compared to 11,440 in FY16, a considerable increase of 25.6 percent. Indian nationals are heavily represented in this category and account for 9,618 applicants, or 66.9 percent of the total.
  • Third preference: 64,325 total applicants in FY17, including 55,521 skilled workers and 8,804 other workers. The total number in this category dropped 5.1 percent (from 67,792 in FY16) due to a 9.8 percent drop in skilled workers (from 61,584). Other workers grew 41.8 percent from 6,208. Indian nationals account for 39.1 percent of skilled workers (21,696), but only 5.6 percent of other workers (492).
  • Fourth preference: 354 on the waiting list in FY17 compared to 379 in FY16, a drop of 6.6 percent.
  • Fifth preference: This category grew by a substantial 39.4 percent, up to 24,629 in FY17, from 17,662 in FY16. Applicants born in China account for some 93 percent of the total.

DOS Waiting List Only a Subset of Total Employment-Based Immigrant Visa Cases

The DOS cautions that these statistics only represent a subset of cases – those following the consular-processing route – and do not count cases with pending adjustments of status / I-485s at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Moreover, the DOS notes that waiting list totals for employment-based categories “significantly understate real immigrant demand … [because] eighty-two percent of all employment preference immigrants were processed as adjustment of status cases at USCIS offices during FY16. That said; this is a useful statistical snapshot for employment-based immigrant visa applicants and their families.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.