9 FAM 503
Numerical Limitations

9 FAM 503.1

Numerical Limitations Overview

(CT:VISA-1157;   09-17-2020)
(Office of Origin:  CA/VO)

9 fAM 503.1-1  Statutory and REgulatory Authorities

9 FAM 503.1-1(A)  Immigration and Nationality Act

(CT:VISA-1;   11-18-2015)

INA 101(a)(27)(A)-(B) (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(27)(A)-(B)); INA 201 (8 U.S.C. 1151); INA 202 (8 U.S.C. 1152); INA 203 (8 U.S.C. 1153); INA 206 (8 U.S.C. 1156); INA 222(b) (8 U.S.C. 1202).

9 FAM 503.1-1(B)  Code of Federal Regulations

(CT:VISA-1;   11-18-2015)

22 CFR 42.12; 22 CFR 42.22; 22 CFR 42.51; 22 CFR 42.53; 22 CFR 42.54.

9 FAM 503.1-1(C)  Public Law

(CT:VISA-1;   11-18-2015)

International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1981, Public Law 97-113, sec. 714; Immigration Act of 1990, Public Law 101-649, sec. 103.

9 FAM 503.1-2  allocation of Numbers

9 FAM 503.1-2(A)  Overview

(CT:VISA-162;   08-25-2016)

a. Immigration legislation establishes annual limits on the number of family-sponsored preference, employment-based preference and diversity immigrants who may be issued immigrant visas or otherwise obtain LPR status based on those classifications (no limits exist for immediate relatives or certain special immigrants).  Each classification has its own numerical limit, and for many of the classifications the numerical limits will vary slightly from year to year.  Every individual (whether a principal beneficiary or derivative) who is issued an immigrant visa or who adjusts status to LPR in a particular classification counts against its numerical limit.

b. Preference classifications in which there is more demand for immigrant numbers than can be accommodated under the numerical limits are said to be “oversubscribed.” Individuals seeking an immigrant visa or adjustment to LPR status based on an oversubscribed classification must wait until a visa number becomes available in subsequent months or years.  Applicants and petitioners should never be discouraged from filing petitions based on oversubscribed classifications – applicants essentially compete on a “first-come, first-served” basis for available visa numbers, and a delay in filing a petition will generally result in a longer wait for visa numbers.  See 9 FAM 503.1-2(B) below for information about priority dates.

c.  Besides numerical limits for each preference classification, there are also numerical limits on the number of immigrants from any single country in a fiscal year. No more than 7% of the total numerically-limited immigrants may be from a single country.  Those countries in which demand for immigrant visa numbers exceeds the annual 7% per-country limit are deemed "oversubscribed" and natives of those countries may face a longer wait for a visa than applicants from other countries. 

d. For diversity visas (DV), the Secretary of Homeland Security identifies "high- admission" and "low-admission" countries over the most recent 5-year period.  DV numbers are apportioned among six geographic regions.  Only natives of "low-admission" countries may compete for the DV numbers allotted to their region; natives of "high-admission" countries are ineligible.  No one country may receive more than 7% of the annually available DV numbers.  Entitlement to immigrant status in the DV category lasts only through the end of the fiscal year for which the applicant is selected.  (See 9 FAM 502.6.)   

e. The Department allocates immigrant visa numbers monthly through the Immigrant Visa Allocation Management System (IVAMS) on the basis of Reports 20, Monthly Report of Documentarily Qualified Applicants.  (See 9 FAM 503.4-4(A), 9 FAM 504.3-2(A)(1) and 9 FAM 601.4-4(B)(1).)

9 FAM 503.1-2(B)  Priority Dates

(CT:VISA-268;   12-12-2016)

a. For most preference visas, the applicant's place on the waiting list is determined by the priority date of the petition.  The priority date of the petition is the date on which the completed, signed petition is properly filed.  A petition will be considered properly filed when the completed, signed petition, including all initial evidence and the correct fee, is filed with the DHS or (if permissible) at a U.S. consular office abroad.  For certain employment visas, however, the priority date is determined by other means. See 9 FAM 503.3 for additional information about priority dates.

b. A diversity visa applicant's place on the DV waiting list is determined by the regional rank order number assigned to the applicant at the time the random selection is made.  See 9 FAM 502.6 for additional information about diversity visas.

9 FAM 503.1-2(C)  Order of Consideration

(CT:VISA-298;  03-13-2017)

NVC will request applicants to take the steps necessary to meet the requirements of INA 222(b) in order to apply formally for a visa as follows:

(1)  In the chronological order of the priority dates of all applicants within each of the immigrant classifications specified in INA 203(a) and INA 203(b) (family-sponsored preference, employment-based preference); and

(2)  In the random order established by the Secretary of State for each region for the fiscal year for applicants entitled to status under INA 203(c) (diversity immigrants).

9 FAM 503.1-2(D)  Chargeability

(CT:VISA-298;  03-13-2017)

a. In order to determine the number of potential immigrants from each country, each immigrant is assigned a chargeability (sometimes referred to as a foreign state chargeability or foreign state area limitation) – that is, the country or foreign state against whose limit the applicant will be counted when the visa is issued or status adjusted.  This chargeability, along with the visa or adjustment symbol (composed of classification and primary/derivative beneficiary identifiers), is used to track the allocation and use of visa numbers.

b. The numerical limitations prescribed in INA 201, INA 202, and INA 203 apply to the foreign states and dependent areas.  (See 9 FAM 503.2-5(A) and 9 FAM 503.2-5(B).)  An immigrant visa applicant subject to these numerical limitations is generally chargeable to the numerical limitation applicable to the applicant’s place of birth.  An immigrant visa applicant born in a dependent area is chargeable to the dependent area (to ensure compliance with the dependent-area limitation imposed in INA 202), as well as to the mother country.  See 9 FAM 503.2-4 for exceptions to this rule.

9 FAM 503.1-3  Visa classes not subject to Numerical limitations

9 FAM 503.1-3(A)  Immediate Relatives

(CT:VISA-162;   08-25-2016)

Immediate relative immigrant visas are not numerically limited.  Immediate relative visa classes include spouses of U.S. citizens, children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens, orphans and Hague Convention adoptees adopted abroad or to be adopted in the United States by U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens if such citizens are at least 21 years old, and certain widow(er)s of U.S. citizens and their children.  See 9 FAM 502.2-2 and 9 FAM 502.3 for more information about these visa categories.

9 FAM 503.1-3(B)  Returning Residents

(CT:VISA-162;   08-25-2016)

LPR aliens who are unable to return to the United States within the travel validity of their Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card, or Reentry permit may apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a special immigrant Returning Resident (SB-1) visa under INA 101(a)(27)(A).  See 9 FAM 502.7-2(B) for information about visas for returning residents.

9 FAM 503.1-3(C)  Certain Former U.S. Citizens

(CT:VISA-636;   07-16-2018)

Certain U.S. citizens who lost United States citizenship by marriage to an alien and certain military expatriates may be classified as a special immigrant under INA 101(a)(27)(B).  See 9 FAM 502.7-2(B) paragraph (c)(1) for additional information about these visa categories.

9 FAM 503.1-3(D)  Beneficiaries of Private Laws

(CT:VISA-636;   07-16-2018)

Beneficiaries of private legislation granting permanent resident status are considered eligible for special immigrant status as returning resident aliens under the provisions of INA 101(a)(27)(A) even though they may have been abroad at the time the legislation was enacted.  The spouse and children of such aliens may also benefit.  See 9 FAM 502.7-5(B) and 9 FAM 502.7-5(C) for information about private bills.

9 FAM 503.1-4  Visa Classes subject to Numerical limitations

9 FAM 503.1-4(A)  Family-Sponsored Preference Immigrant Visas

(CT:VISA-1;   11-18-2015)

These visa classes are for specific family relationships to a U.S. citizen or LPR, and are subject to annual numerical limitations as enumerated in INA 203(a).  The family-sponsored preferences are: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; spouses and children, and unmarried sons and daughters, of LPRs; married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens if such citizens are at least 21 years of age.  See 9 FAM 502.2-3 for information about these categories of visas and 9 FAM 503.4 for information about allocation of numbers to these categories.

9 FAM 503.1-4(B)  Employment-Based Preference Immigrant Visas

(CT:VISA-162;   08-25-2016)

These visa classes are for specific categories of workers, and are subject to annual numerical limitations as enumerated in INA 203(b).  The employment-based preferences are:  priority workers (including persons with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers and multinational managers or executives); professionals holding advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability; skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers (other workers); certain special immigrants (see 9 FAM 502.5 for a complete list of the subgroups in this category); and immigrant investors.  See 9 FAM 502.4 and 9 FAM 502.5 for information about these categories of visas and 9 FAM 503.4 for information about allocation of numbers to these categories.

9 FAM 503.1-4(C)  Diversity Visas

(CT:VISA-162;   08-25-2016)

DV immigrants are subject to numerical limitations.  An alien who seeks to participate in the DV lottery must register once each year and if selected, must complete the immigrant visa process by the end of the DV program year.  See 9 FAM 502.6 for additional information about diversity visas.