Thursday, June 28, 2012
News on retrogression
On Tuesday, June 19, 2012, Roberta Freedman, AILA Students & Scholars Committee member, discussed the Visa Bulletin, visa demand in the employment preference categories, and predictions for FY2012 and beyond with Charlie Oppenheim of the Visa Office. Here are notes from that discussion: 2012 and 2013 News In October 2012 (beginning of the 2013 fiscal year), the EB-2 cut-off dates for China-Mainland born and India, which are currently "unavailable," will move to August or September 2007 (China may be slightly better). It is unlikely that the cut-off dates will move forward at all for the first two quarters of FY2013. If they do, it will only be if the Visa Office is convinced that there is insufficient demand for the rest of the year. Mr. Oppenheim's office already has 17,000 EB-2 cases for natives of India, China, and worldwide with priority dates after January 1, 2009, pre-adjudicated. There will be a lot of cases queued up for adjudication in October 2012, and it will take some time to get through them. EB-2 worldwide will be current in October 2012. If USCIS approves many pending cases during the month of June, the worldwide EB-2 category may retrogress or become unavailable for the rest of the year. Why did the priority dates move ahead so far and then retrogress so drastically? USCIS encouraged Mr. Oppenheim's office to move the categories forward so much in January, February, and March of 2012. USCIS reported that they had a lot of approved petitions but they were not receiving enough I-485s. USCIS wanted the cut-off dates moved even more in March 2012, but DOS resisted, since there already appeared to be heavy demand. In February, the demand had already increased 50%. In addition, USCIS said that they believed that adjudication of EB-1 cases would be at the same rate as last fiscal year, and this was not the case. It could be due to the fact that many EB-1 cases had very long adjudication times with USCIS. In addition, EB-5 usage has been higher this year. Unused EB-5 cases fall into EB-1, and unused EB-1 cases fall into EB-2. Applicants from China and India who filed will be waiting years for adjudication of their I-485s. USCIS also advised a 4-6 month timeline in the processing of I-485s, and then they processed a lot of cases in 3 months, which increased the demand as well for visa numbers this fiscal year. The group of cases that were filed in July and August of 2007, when all employment-based categories were made "current," were all completed by November 2011, and at that point, Mr. Oppenheim's office had to depend on USCIS estimates for adjudication of cases. Mr. Oppenheim's office had no pre-adjudicated cases that gave him a point of reference to determine what was left or pending. Mr. Oppenheim's office has been very clear that they do not like retrogression. Going forward: Another problem with trying to predict the demand is that no one is keeping statistics on EB-3-EB-2 "upgrades." Upgrades continue to be a big "wildcard," as no one knows how many are being used per year and no one is tracking it. Mr. Oppenheim confirmed his previous comments that both cases for a person remain open (so it looks like two numbers are being used) if a person is upgrading from EB-3 to EB-2, and only when the green card is approved does the duplicate file number go away. At that time, Mr. Oppenheim's office is told by USCIS to cancel a pending EB-3 case. Mr. Oppenheim's office believes that there are 10,000 to 15,000 numbers used for upgrades every fiscal year. In March 2012, alone, 3,200 numbers were used to approve China and India adjustments that were EB-3-EB-2 upgrades. The actual break down was 2,800 from India and 500 from China. All of these cases had priority dates before 2007, so clearly, they were upgrades. For example, 363 of the 2,800 EB-2 cases from India that were approved in March 2012, had a 2005 priority date. In March 2012, alone, over 1,000 numbers were used for applications from the worldwide quota that had priority dates before 2010, so these were likely upgrades as well. USCIS previously insisted that the number of upgrade cases was insignificant. Mr. Oppenheim's office tries to use 13,500 visas per quarter for all EB cases. This office already has more than 17,000 in line for FY2013. On Thursday, January 19, 2012, Business committee chair Mike Nowlan and Students & Scholars committee member, Roberta Freedman, discussed the Visa Bulletin, visa demand in the employment preference categories, and predictions for FY2012 with Charlie Oppenheim of the Visa Office. Notes from that discussion are: EB green card usage has been very slow in FY2012, so DOS is advancing the dates to see how many cases are out there. Mr. Oppenheim is relying on USCIS and their estimate. USCIS thought more would come in, but 50% their estimate have actually filed an AOS. This movement is due in large part to the clearing out of the EB-2 2007 AOS cases. Mr. Oppenheim reminds AILA that DOS cannot "see" the I-140 cases that are approved and for which adjustment of status had been requested prior to September 2010, though he can "see" cases for which consular processing is requested. Mr. Oppenheim could not speculate why usage is slow/low. Economy? Foreign nationals lost jobs? Low usage of EB-1 numbers is assumed again this year. A fall-down of 12,000 additional EB-1 numbers into EB-2 is calculated into Mr. Oppenheim's projections for 2012, although he thinks EB-1 number availability may be down by approximately 1,000 as compared to last year, due to heavier EB-5 usage since unused EB-5 numbers "spill up" to EB-1 and then down to EB-2. Mr. Oppenheim is very surprised by the severe downturn in EB-1 numbers. We cited the impact of Kazarian on USCIS filings and demand for EB-1-1 numbers, and the fact that it is difficult for an owner-beneficiary to obtain approval of EB-1-3 petitions. About 34% of the total number of permanent visas have been used this year, and 45% should be used by end of February. Adjustment of status through USCIS accounts for 85% to 90% of all EB green card cases. The impact on number usage of upgrades (EB-3 to EB-2) is still unknown. Upgrades were the reason the priority dates advanced so slowly in in the beginning of FY2011. For upgrades, the EB-3 case does not get cleared out of the system until the EB-2 for the same person is approved. Mr. Oppenheim also wonders whether demand is weak for visas for dependent family members, and so fewer green cards are needed. Mr. Oppenheim meets monthly with USCIS and the Ombudsman's office to review the receipt of cases. There was a recent meeting to discuss December numbers. There will be another review before he decides what he will do in March. Prediction: Employment-based priority dates will advance again with the March Visa Bulletin, likely by at least a few months. An advance of six months is possible, although an advance of one year is not likely. He will know as this month moves on. With normal USCIS adjustment of status processing times of four-to-six months, March is the last time for Mr. Oppenheim to get the AOS cases filed and possibly approved in FY2012. He will then probably hold the priority date over the summer, and then retrogress or advance it if needed. Mr. Oppenheim does not have enough data to predict demand and priority date changes in the last quarter of FY2012. • USCIS is agreeing to the priority date advances, though significant advances are bit of a gamble for USCIS, because if they get inundated with adjustment filings, and subsequently there is priority date retrogression, USCIS will have to process EAD and advance parole extensions without additional fees. As we all know, retrogression causes chaos.