THE most common question asked by visa applicants to the US now is, "How long do I have to wait for an interview schedule?"

Interview appointments are for immigrant and non-immigrant visa (NIV) applicants. Let's try with the easy ones — the NIVs.

The US State Department monitors the visa operations of consular posts and embassies worldwide, specifically in relation to how they are keeping the post open given the Covid-19 situation in the city and country where the consular post or embassy is located.

The website (official link) for official info and updates is this: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html

When on this page, select or type "Manila" and click on "Go."

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At the time of writing, here (see Table 1) is what the official State Department waiting times show for the two most common types of NIV visas and the Other NIVs.

TABLE 1

Pretty much cut and dried.

Those waiting for their immigrant visas on the other hand, need to go through a labyrinth of assumptions and projection.

First, the total number of immigrant visa applicants from the Philippines.

The State Department's November 2021 list (the latest) shows that of the 3,969,573 applicants worldwide in the family-preference categories, the Philippines has the second highest number of visa applicants — 288,753.

This total in turn is divided into (allocated) among the following categories: 21,938 – F1: unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens; 15,861 – F2A: spouse and children of lawful permanent residents; 49,992 – F2B: over 21 unmarried sons/daughters of permanent residents; 105,561 – F3: married sons/daughters of US citizens; and 95,401 – F4: adult sisters/brothers of US citizens.

Not all of them, however, would be eligible for interview appointments.

First, there is the issue of priority dates. Unless an applicant's priority date is current, he/she cannot be scheduled for an interview schedule at the US Embassy in Manila.

The priority dates are shown in the State Department's monthly Visa Bulletin report. The Visa Bulletin has two charts: Chart A, "Final action dates for family-sponsored preference cases" and Chart B, "Dates for filing family-sponsored visa applications September.

Before an immigrant visa applicant may be scheduled for an interview, he/she must first complete the visa processing with the National Visa Center (NVC). An applicant may only start visa processing if his/her priority is on or earlier than that shown on Chart B.

For example, the September 2022 Visa Bulletin shows the priority date of F2B Philippine applicants as "22OCT11."

An F2B applicant from the Philippines whose priority date is on Oct. 22, 2011, or earlier may then start visa processing, but only if he/she has the case number and invoice ID number. NVC normally issues a case creation letter to applicants when an applicant's priority date is approaching the date on Chart A.

Chart B was set up by the State Department so that applicants may start obtaining documents to establish continuing eligibility for the classification — before the priority date becomes current, visas become available, and an applicant could be scheduled for an interview at the embassy.

Once an applicant completes payment, completion of forms and uploading of required documents, he/she would be considered "documentarily qualified," or DQ. His/her application is put on queue, behind the last DQ applicant in the category.

To recap, even if an applicant's priority date is current, he/she cannot be scheduled for an interview unless the applicant is considered DQ.

Back to the waiting list, specifically the F2B category where 49,992 applicants from the Philippines are waiting for their visas. Not all of them have the priority dates current. Subsequently not all of those whose priority dates are current are now DQ.

Assuming 10,000 of the 49,992 F2B applicants from the Philippines are now DQ, how long would be the wait?

The US Embassy and State Department's visa issuance data is the key.

From April to July 2022, the US Embassy in Manila issued visas in various family preference categories, including the F2B (see Table 2). For the F2B categories, the embassy issued 122 visas in July (more than that issued in April (29); May (51), June (75).

TABLE 2

Assuming there are 10,000 F2B applicants in the DQ queue, and if the embassy maintains a steady 114 visa issuance monthly how long before the 10,000 applicants are interviewed?

Roughly 8 to 10 years.

By that time, most of the children would have turned 21 and no longer be considered eligible to be issued visas. They have aged out.

Also, petitioners who are 75 or above may not be in good health. In case of demise, the petition gets revoked automatically.

What are the viable options?

Unless the US embassy resumes full visa operations based on the improved Covid-19 situation, which in turn would increase the number of visa applications processed and interviews scheduled, the 8-to-10-year wait remains.

US visa options for the aged-out or aging-out children are EB3 — immigrant visa petitions by employers (approximately two years' waiting period); a student visa (F-1 academic student visa); a fiancée visa (based on a genuine and established relationship); spouse visa (pursuant to a documented relationship and declared intent to pursue a life together in the US); or a visitor visa to at least have a real feel of what life is in the US.

The same options are available in Canada, just across the border from the US. The waiting period may be longer but the chances of and benefits of a student visa in Canada are much better.

The partner of an international student in Canada can work full-time. The student spouse may also work 20 hours a week (when school is in session) and 40 hours during school breaks.

In contrast, a foreign student and spouse in the US are not allowed to work — especially during the first year. The student spouse may compete for limited hours and work on campus, but not anywhere else.

An international student and partner in Canada can work any job with any employer. After completing one year of authorized employment in Canada either the student or working spouse becomes eligible for permanent residency through the Canadian Experience Class.

The US-student counterpart may apply for an H-1B work visa (which is by lottery), or an EB-3 visa by a qualified and eligible employer who must go through the permanent labor certification process before an I-140 immigrant visa petition could be lodged. In fairness, lawfully present applicants in the US may apply for work permits while the adjustment of status application is pending after the I-140 petition is approved.

US immigrant visa applicants need to have their applications processed by the book.

Unfortunately, the pages of compliance with the existing laws and regulations (visa allocation, annual quota per category, per country limits and the restrictions in place due to the pandemic, exacerbated by the presidential proclamations banning immigrant admissions) created a huge backlog and super extended waiting period.

It is also unlikely that a new edition will be published any time soon.