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Department of State posts that process both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas are prioritizing immigrant visa applications. However, the volume and type of visa cases each post will process continues to depend on local conditions. U.S. embassies and consulates have implemented social distancing and other safety measures, which have reduced the number of applicants consular sections are able to process in a single day. Consular sections will resume providing all routine visa services as it is safe to do so in that particular location. The guiding principle on which the DOS has based immigrant visa prioritization is that family reunification is a clear priority of the U.S. Government’s immigration policy.

Specifically, the Department’s prioritization relied on clear direction from Congress that the Department must adopt a policy of prioritizing immediate relative visa applicants and K-1 fiancées of U.S. citizens, followed by family preference immigrant visa applicants. Consistent with those objectives, U.S. embassies and consulates are using a tiered approach to triage immigrant visa applications based on the category of immigrant visa as they resume and expand processing. The following lists the main categories of immigrant visas in priority order:

Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government), and emergency cases as determined on a case-by-case basis.

Tier Two: Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas

Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad

Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas

This prioritization plan instructs posts to maximize their limited resources to accommodate as many immediate relative and fiancé(e) cases as possible with a goal of preventing the backlog from growing in these categories and reducing it. However, prioritization plan also instructs posts to schedule and adjudicate some cases in Tier Three and Tier Four each month. The DOS acknowledges that certain programs, including the diversity visa program, operate on a fiscal year basis as required by law. As a result of COVID the number of visas issued in lower-priority preference categories or in such programs as the diversity visa program likely will not approach the statutory ceiling in Fiscal Year 2021.

Recognizing the emergence of the COVID Delta variant and the continued demand for healthcare professionals during the pandemic, U.S. embassies and consulates were instructed that they may prioritize as emergencies on a case-by-case basis the immigrant visa cases of certain healthcare professionals who will work at a facility engaged in pandemic response.

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