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Visa Bulletin January 2018: Visa flights and standbys

by December 17, 2017 General


READY to fly or on standby?

“Istambay” is a term I remember vividly from when I was a teenager. My mother told me that if I didn’t pursue and complete a college education, I would be like most male adults in town who just lounge around restaurants, bars, barber shops and plazas watching the world go by and time fly.

They were unemployed and had nothing better to do, therefore, nowhere to go.

Later in life, after graduation and finding my calling as an immigrant advocate and international visa counselor (20-plus years of which were in the United States), I had the opportunity to travel frequently – coast to coast and from country to country.

In several instances, I had to list myself as a “chance passenger” which is the official term for passengers who do not have confirmed tickets but wish to take their chances in case passengers with confirmed tickets do not show up.

The airline accepts a certain number of chance passengers to ensure that the flight would have the most passengers instead of taking off with a lot of empty seats. Better to overbook than overspend.

Fifteen minutes before boarding time, if the passengers with confirmed tickets are no shows, then the airline starts taking in chance passengers, issuing tickets on a first-come, first reserved basis. Depending on how many ticket holders show up, a specific flight may be able to take in all the chance passengers, some, or just a few.

When confirmed ticket holders show up, the standby passengers may opt to be chance passengers again on the next flight, on the same day – or just wait for the flight where they have confirmed tickets and seat assignments.

Standby I believe became the Tagalog word istambay.

Immigrant visa applicants are like airline passengers. There are those with confirmed tickets for specific dates, time and terminal assignment.

A person with an approved immigrant visa petition in any of the family-sponsored or employment-based categories has a priority date or “flight schedule” if you will. This is the date the petition was filed by the US citizen or green card holder relative with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

The monthly Visa Bulletin issued by the US State Department shows which priority dates in each of the categories are current. The priority date becomes current if immigrant visa numbers become available for a specific preference category. Visas become available if there are sufficient visas allocated for the country’s visa applicants in any given month. If there are more applicants than visas available for one or two preference categories, those categories are considered “oversubscribed.”

Visa Bulletin for January 2018
The priority dates for January next year is shown in the Final Action Dates chart below, and compared with the dates in the same month of years 2012 and 2014 to show how fast – or slow – the pace had been.

From December this year to January 2018, the EB3 categories moved back six months. The F1 (over 21 unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens) and F2B (over 21 unmarried sons and daughters of green card holders) remained the same. F3 (married sons and daughters of US citizens moved forward just a week while brothers and sisters of US citizens (F4) advanced by a month. To these applicants with confirmed tickets/priority dates, welcome abroad.

Country allocation and flight capacity
The United States admits an average of one million immigrants or permanent residents a year, based on existing immigration and visa laws.

While there are set limits (quotas or caps) in the preference categories, “immediate relatives” of US citizens are not subject to numerical limits. These are the spouses, minor children (unmarried, below 21 years of age) and parents of US citizens. The 5th employment-based categories could be considered the first-class passengers, the EB1 and EB2 the business class while the EB3 would be premium economy together with the F2A (spouses, minor children of green card holders). The rest – F1, F2B, F3 and F4 — occupy the varying economy seats.

Visa beneficiaries (the persons being sponsored or petitioned) in the family or employment-preference categories are subject to the per country allocation which is 25,620 a year.

The annual minimum family-sponsored preference limit of 226,000. The worldwide level for annual employment-based preference immigrants is at least 140,000. The per-country limit for preference immigrants is set at 7 percent of the total annual family-sponsored and employment-based preference limits, i.e., 25,620. The dependent area limit is set at 2 percent, or 7,320.

The hypothetical yearly passenger limit of Uncle Sam’s Airlines per country is 25,620. Unless there are a lot of unused visa numbers (or unsold flight seats) in other countries that could be made available to countries with more passengers than flights, chance passengers would just have to wait for their own flight schedules.

Country conditions affect passenger seats
It is a proven and historical fact that if visa beneficiaries are economically established in their countries of origin, the push factor, or the desire to avail of their immigrant visas is not that strong. On the other hand, if employment and career opportunities are severely limited or virtually non-existent, or if there is war, famine, natural calamities, persons with approved immigrant visa petitions make sure their visa applications are ongoing and issued. Since they have confirmed tickets, when their priority dates or flight schedules come up, they can simply board Uncle Sam’s Airlines.

The countries with a history of ove-rsubscription of visa applicants or passengers are Mexico, mainland China, the Philippines and India. Countries with strong economies, where human and civil rights are respected, and rule of law prevails retain their best and brightest minds. Citizens of these countries may apply for tourist or student visas to improve their career back home, but store their immigrant visa applications in the freezer.

Because the Immigration Act of 1965 opened the US migration doors to nationals of Asia and Latin American countries, in 1990, concerned that there were not enough immigrants from Europe, the US created the Diversity Visa program which allocated 50,000 permanent residency seats to countries with low-immigration-to-the-US numbers. The program, however, attracted applicants from poorer Eastern European countries, including Uzbekistan, where Sayfullo Saipov came from. Saipov launched a truck-terror attack in downtown New York in November this year killing eight people and injuring 12 others.

If European countries like France, Germany, the UK, Japan, Singapore or Canada do not use their 25,620 visa allocation, then a lot of chance passenger seats open. Stand-by ticket holders from the Philippines, China, Mexico or India could be on the next visa flight.

Conversely, even if visa applicants from the Philippines or other oversubscribed countries have been issued stand-by tickets, they can still get bumped off the flight or off-loaded when the actual ticket holders show up.

All things considered, immigrant visa applicants whose priority dates appear on the Visa Bulletin’s 2nd chart (Dates for Filing Visa Applications) must continue to prepare their documents to ensure that they have what they need when their visa flights are finally cleared for take-off.