The U.S. State Department recently clarified how U.S. embassies and consulates are prioritizing immigrant visa applications and working to reduce backlogs.

Key Points:

  • Posts around the world that process both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas continue to prioritize immigrant visa applications at this time.
  • Consular sections are prioritizing immigrant visa applications as follows:
    • Tier One. Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases, 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 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.
  • The Department continues to process diversity visa cases as possible; officials said that because of COVID-19, the number of visas processed for lower-priority preference categories and similar programs will not likely meet the statutory ceiling for 2021.
  • The Department clarified that it will prioritize as “emergencies” immigrant healthcare workers who will work at a facility engaged in the pandemic response.

Additional Information: The volume and type of visa each embassy or consulate processes depends on local conditions and available resources. Some posts may be able to process more nonimmigrant visas depending on local conditions. The prioritization plan instructs embassies and consulates to adjudicate some Tier Three and Four cases in addition to the higher tier categories.

BAL Analysis: Embassies and consulates continue to operate at a reduced capacity around the world. Continued visa processing delays are to be expected. BAL will continue to monitor visa processing prioritization and will provide important updates as information becomes available.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact

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