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30 March 2010

Responding to Your Comments on Visa Numbers, Preference Categories, and Spillover

This post is in response to the outpouring of comments and questions on visa number usage, spillover of visa numbers into other preference categories, and the visa number backlog.

Preference Categories

The primary reasons for entering the immigration process in the U.S. are family and employment-based. To manage this process, family and employment-based immigration is broken into preference categories. Congress sets limits on how many individuals may immigrate to the U.S. each year (i.e. visa numbers) and also sets limits on how many individuals may immigrate within each preference category.

Section 201 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets an annual minimum family-sponsored preference limit of 226,000. The worldwide level for annual employment-based preference immigrants is at least 140,000.

Per-Country Limit

Section 202 of the INA prescribes that the per-country limit for preference immigrants is set at 7% of the total annual family-sponsored and employment-based preference limits, i.e., 25,620. The dependent area limit is set at 2%, or 7,320.

The demand for visas from nationals of India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines is greater than the per-country limit and that is why these countries are listed separately in the Visa Bulletin. The Department of State (DOS) is responsible for reviewing visa number usage and determining how many numbers are currently available. You can check the monthly Visa Bulletin for more detailed information. The monthly Visa Bulletin allows beneficiaries to know where they stand in the immigration queue.


The chart below shows the visa numbers that are available for each category, as well as how unused visa numbers "spillover" into other preference categories. Because we strive to use the maximum number of visas available each year, there generally aren't any unused visa numbers available to spillover.

Family-Based (FB) Categories
Visa Number Limits
Immediate Relatives
Not subject to direct numerical limitations.
1st Preference (Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens)
23,400, plus any remaining FB visa numbers
2A Preference (Spouses and children of permanent residents)
87,934, plus a portion of any remaining visa numbers from the FB 1st  
2B Preference (Unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents)
26,266, plus a portion of any remaining visa numbers from the FB 1st preference category, and any unused F2A numbers
3rd Preference (Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens)
23,400, plus any remaining visa numbers from the FB 1st and 2nd preference categories
4th Preference (Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens)
65,000, plus any remaining visa numbers from the FB 1st, 2nd, and 3rd preference categories

Employment-Based (EB) Categories
Visa Number Limits
1st Preference (Aliens of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers)
28.6% of the world-wide employment limit, plus any remaining visa numbers from the EB 4th and 5th preference category
2nd Preference (Members of the professions holding an advanced degree and national interest waivers)
28.6% of the world-wide employment limit, plus any remaining visa numbers from the EB 1st preference category
3rd Preference (Skilled workers and professionals)
28.6% of the world-wide employment limit, plus any remaining visa numbers from the EB 1st and 2nd preference categories
3rd Preference (Other workers)
No more than 10,000
4th Preference (Certain special immigrants)
7.1% of the world-wide employment limit
5th Preference (Employment Creation)
7.1% of the world-wide employment limit

We hope this helps our readers better understand how the visa number process works and welcome your comments.

22 March 2010

Answers to Your Comments About Haiti

As we've continued to post updates on the situation in Haiti, our readers have continued to post comments with questions on immigration benefits for Haitians. We received comments focused on five areas in particular, and wanted to post answers for each:

1. I am a Haitian in the U.S. on a temporary work/visit/study (etc.) visa and I don't believe I qualify for TPS. Is there anything I can do to extend my stay?

If you were in the United States on January 12, 2010, regardless of your immigration status on that date, you may be eligible to apply for TPS. More information on TPS eligibility for Haiti can be found on our Temporary Protected Status-Haiti page.

If you currently have a valid nonimmigrant status (student, temporary worker, visit, etc.) and would like to extend your stay, please review the information provided in the "Working in the U.S." or "Visit the U.S." sections of our website. You may also review the instructions on Form I-539, Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status, and Form I-129, Application for Temporary Worker (the form you would use to extend your nonimmigrant status depends on your current nonimmigrant status).

2. I am not a Haitian and am unhappy that prioritization of Haitian applications will take away resources from my application and slow down the process.

USCIS placed the adjudication of TPS applications in offices that had the experience and capacity to adjudicate these cases without negatively impacting the processing times of other applications and petitions. USCIS has not stopped adjudicating some applications in order to adjudicate applications for TPS. We are adjudicating all applications and petitions that we receive and strive to adjudicate all within our processing time goals.

3. I am a U.S. citizen or green card holder with family in Haiti who have been seriously impacted by the earthquake. Is there anything I can do to bring them to the United States - even temporarily?

If you are a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, you may petition for certain relatives to come to the United States permanently. Information on petitioning for a relative may be found in the "Family" section of our website.

Relatives may come to the United States temporarily if they are eligible to receive a nonimmigrant visa. Information about visiting the United States temporarily can be found in the "Visit the U.S." section of out site.

4. Why are Haitians who were illegal immigrants in the U.S. reaping all the benefits of TPS as opposed to helping those actually hit hardest by the earthquake?

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is designed to provide a temporary means to remain in the United States for those who cannot return to their country. TPS should not be viewed as a reward for possibly being in the United States without a valid immigration status, rather it should be viewed as an act of compassion during a time of need.

USCIS has taken steps to also assist those in Haiti who have been impacted by the earthquake. In addition to the work that our staff in Haiti has done and continues to do, USCIS has assisted many orphans in coming to the United States and has been expediting the processing of petitions filed on behalf of relatives in Haiti.

5. How do we finalize an adoption for a child already in the U.S. without a Haitian adoption decree?

We have received this question from several adoptive parents and we are currently working on a plan to address this issue. When a plan has been finalized, we will post this information on our website. Additional information about adoptions from Haiti can be found on our "Questions and Answers: Information for Adoptive Parents of Paroled Haitian Orphans" page.

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21 March 2010

A Very Special Citizenship Ceremony

Last week, 54 children representing 29 countries celebrated their U.S. citizenship during two special children's citizenship ceremonies in the Washington, DC area.

The first ceremony was held Thursday at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens while the second was held at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

See this news release from our homepage for more.


18 March 2010

USCIS Announces E-Verify Employee Rights Initiatives

On March 17, USCIS Director Ali Mayorkas announced new civil rights initiatives tied to E-Verify, our program that allows employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees. E-Verify is currently used by over 192,000 employers at 707,000 worksites and is growing by more than 1,000 employers a week.

The initiatives include:
  • Videos specially designed for employers and employees available in English and Spanish; 
  • A dedicated hotline created to respond to employee inquiries also available in English and Spanish; and, 
  • A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between USCIS and the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.
We're releasing 2 informational videos depicting reenactments of real-world hiring scenarios in which employers and employees work together through the E-Verify process. The 20-minute videos are:
  • "Understanding E-Verify: Employer Responsibilities and Worker Rights," aimed at employers, explains E-Verify rules, procedures, and policies to employers with an emphasis on safeguarding employee privacy. 
  • "Know Your Rights: Employee Rights and Responsibilities," is aimed at employees and places special emphasis on the rights of employees, particularly when an employee receives a message from E-Verify indicating a mismatch between the information that the employer entered into the system and the information contained in government databases. (Available in English and Spanish.)
USCIS helped the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties make these videos a reality. The videos will be available beginning March 17 at:
Starting April 5, our new employee hotline will help E-Verify staff respond to employee inquiries, issues and complaints. The hotline will use an interactive voice response system. Employees will be able to choose from four options:
  1. General E-Verify information,
  2. Completing the Form I-9,
  3. Contesting an E-Verify case, and
  4. Filing a complaint regarding possible discrimination or employer misuse of the E-Verify program.
The employee hotline will contain options in both English and Spanish. We also will provide customer service representatives who speak both languages. The hotline number is (888) 897-7781 and again, opens for business on April 5.

Finally, USCIS Director Ali Mayorkas just signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. The MOA establishes the relationship and process for referrals between the USCIS and Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Office of Special Counsel for Unfair Immigration-Related Employment Practices with respect to allegations of discrimination from employer use of E-Verify and information regarding the misuse, abuse or fraudulent use of E-Verify.

I'm excited about the release of the informational videos, the startup of the employee hotline, and the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement. These initiatives showcase our commitment to continuing to improve the E-Verify resources available to both employers and employees and thus help the federal government continue to strengthen the integrity of the E-Verify program. For more information about E-Verify, please visit

Gerri Ratliff, Associate Director
Enterprise Services Directorate


15 March 2010

Director Mayorkas - Our Work Touches the Lives of Many

(in Spanish)

About twenty years ago I visited my great aunt and uncle in their apartment in Brooklyn where they had settled after emigrating from Cuba. They had prepared a sandwich for me wrapped in a neatly-cut square of wax paper. After lunch my great aunt took the wax-paper square, ironed the creases with her hand, and placed the flattened square on a stack of wax paper squares resting atop her refrigerator. My great aunt and uncle understood the value of each cent and the struggle it took to earn it.

As I have embarked upon my tenure as the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services I have carried my memory of the wax paper squares as a strong reminder that our Agency is funded mostly by the hard-earned fees that immigrants pay us. Our Agency is, as a result, ethically obligated to spend this money with extraordinary care and in the service of the immigrants and others whom we serve. This care and this service - together with our commitment to integrity, consistency, and transparency - are values that guide our Agency as we administer the largest immigration system in the world.

In giving life to our nation's immigration laws, we must look at our work and its impact through the eyes of the public we serve, including immigrants yearning to build a better life for their families, businesses in need of specialized skills that are unavailable here, individuals seeking refuge from home-country conditions that no person should have to endure, and the general public. Our work touches the lives of many and helps build a strong foundation for our nation, one that carries forward our tradition as a nation of immigrants while fulfilling our responsibility to protect the integrity of our system and the security of our homeland.

As we open our arms to those who rightfully see our nation as a beacon of hope and opportunity, so too must we as an agency open our doors and be transparent to those with an interest in our mission. We will not shrink from criticism but instead work hard not to deserve it; we will recognize our failures and use them as instructive steps to future success; and, we will build upon our achievements to become the agency of which our nation can be most proud. You deserve this, and so do my colleagues.

I came to this country in 1960, my family having fled Cuba so that my sister and I, and later my brothers, could realize the promise of democracy. I am forever mindful of the journey we made and the challenges it involved. The wax paper atop my great aunt's refrigerator is a lasting symbol, one that guides me as we at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services make the journey possible for others and help define our nation in that spirit.

Alejandro Mayorkas
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Department of Homeland Security

UPDATE: For more, check out this video of Director Alejandro Majorkas speaking before the Migration Policy Institute.


10 March 2010

USCIS Welcomes You to The Beacon

Welcome to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' blog, "The Beacon." We established this forum to allow us to listen and learn from our readers, and to serve as an opportunity for discussion of relevant USCIS, citizenship and immigration issues.

We have assembled a team to author posts and respond to comments to best foster dialog and answer questions related to the USCIS mission and our work. While we will not respond to all comments, we will do our best to ensure that this blog is a timely, two-way conversation. We want you to be the driving force behind the conversation and encourage you to join the conversation by posting comments with your ideas, concerns, and constructive criticism.

We planned to launch this site in March, but as you can see from the entries below, the earthquake in Haiti prompted us to start blogging ahead of schedule. As we move forward, you can expect posts on a variety of citizenship and immigration-related topics from our team, as well as the occasional post by me and other guest authors.

That said, here are questions I have to get the conversation started:
  • What issues would you like to see discussed on the Beacon blog and why?
  • What can USCIS do to better serve you and those who use our services; what suggestions and constructive criticism do you have?
  • What can USCIS do to better communicate with you?

Please leave your responses in the comments section below and review our comment policy.

05 March 2010

TPS Haiti: The Top Five Filing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Since announcing the designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), USCIS has received thousands of applications. In reviewing these applications, we've noticed the following problems:

  1. Not including the appropriate filing fee. Include the appropriate fee with your application. USCIS has created a chart to help customers know what fees they are required to pay when they file for TPS. It is located on the "Temporary Protected Status - Haiti" page under the "Humanitarian" section of If you cannot afford to pay the filling fee, you may request a fee waiver. Information on fee waivers can be found on the "Fee Waiver Guidance" page. 
  2. Not completing every question on the form. Complete every question on the form. If you skip or do not answer questions on the form, processing may be delayed, or your application may be rejected or denied.
  3. Not including your A-number (if you have one). If you have an alien number (A number), it is very important that you include that number on your application. 
  4. Not signing the application. Please sign your application. If your application is not signed, we will reject your application and return it. 
  5. Using an incorrect form to apply for TPS. Use only forms I-821 and I-765 to apply for TPS. Other forms cannot be used to apply for TPS. If you submit different forms, your case will be rejected or denied. You may obtain these forms for free here. You may also call our forms center at 1-800-870-3676 and have the forms sent to you.
The problems listed above may cause a delay in the processing of your application or may result in your application being rejected and returned to you or denied. Please avoid these problems and follow the tips provided to ensure proper processing of your application.

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