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Visa Approvals Bounce Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels in 2022

Jan 25, 2023

Department of State Sign

Visas issued overseas (at foreign service posts outside of the U.S.) increased significantly in 2022 according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2022 visa report.

The yearly data report details all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa issuances by the State Department in the 2022 fiscal year.

Here are some of the high level takeaways from this year’s visa report:

Approval numbers for nonimmigrant and immigrant visas improved between 2021 and 2022, with wait times decreasing in both categories.

  • Total nonimmigrant visa issuances in 2022: 6,815,120
  • Total immigrant visa issuances in 2022: 493,448

Nonimmigrant visa approvals jumped from just 2.7 million in 2021 to over 6.8 million in 2022. Immigrant visa approvals also increased compared to 2021 figures, from 285,069 in 2021 to 493,448 in 2022. Overall, visa numbers in 2022 started trending back towards pre-pandemic levels.

The large spike in nonimmigrant visa approvals is reflective of a wider trend to prioritize these applications moving forward. The State Department has placed a huge emphasis on lowering nonimmigrant visa wait times in the coming year and is significantly increasing personnel in many large countries to reduce application backlogs and meet demand.

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Here’s a more detailed breakdown by visa category:

Immediate Relative Categories

Immigrant visa approvals for immediate relatives remained somewhat consistent as this visa category was prioritized when embassies and consulates reopened post-pandemic shutdowns. Visa issuances totaled 212,185 in 2022, up from 170,604 last year, and 108,292 in 2020. “Immediate relatives” are spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of U.S. citizens. Parents of U.S. citizens over the age of 21 are also considered immediate relatives by the state department.

Immediate relative visa issuances (by year):

2022: 212,185
2021: 170,604
2019: 186,584

Family-Based Preference Categories

Family-based preference categories suffered in 2021 as they were de-prioritized in favor of immediate relatives and K-1 fiancé(e) visa applications. 2022 did show signs of improvement, with 156,800 approvals compared to a mere 63,858 approvals in 2021. “Family-based” preference categories refer to more distant family relationships with a U.S. citizen (such as adult children over the age of 21 or siblings) and some specific relationships with U.S. green card holders (spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21).

Family-based preference visa issuances (by year):

2022: 156,800
2021: 63,858
2019: 190,938

Employment-based Categories

The employment-based visa category saw one of the largest surges over the last year. 32,466 employment-based (1st through 3rd preference) visas were approved in 2022, up from just 12,299 in 2021 and well above average approvals for previous years. The surge in employment-based visa approvals reflects a government-wide initiative to prioritize this category of immigrants and welcome foreign professionals into the U.S. job market amid recent labor shortages.

Employment-based (1st through 3rd preference) visa issuances (by year):

2022: 32,466
2021: 12,299
2019: 13,028

Diversity Visas

Diversity visas also made a noteworthy post-pandemic comeback, at 54,334 issued in 2022. Only 17,000 and 18,000 diversity visas were approved in 2021 and 2020 respectively, during the height of COVID-related backlogs and travel restrictions.

Visa Issuances By Region

Most nonimmigrant and immigrant visa approvals came from the Western Hemisphere, which includes North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The Western Hemisphere region accounted for more than half of the total nonimmigrant visas issued in 2022, and just under half of all immigrant visas.

Several countries saw notable increases in nonimmigrant visa approvals between 2021 and 2022, including Nigeria and the Philippines.

Nigeria (Lagos):

2022: 42,329
2021: 11,533

Philippines (Manila):

2022: 173,371
2021: 84,734

Note: The State Department’s 2022 Visa Report is still pending the release of data on nonimmigrant visas and per-country denial rates. This information will be updated in this article when available.

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