U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the National Visa Center (NVC) issues immigrant visa numbers to green card applicants after the petitioner successfully submits Form I-130 or Form I-140 and once there is a visa available. There are caps on the number of people who can get an immigrant visa each year. So even if you have met all of the eligibility requirements to get a permanent visa, become a lawful permanent resident, and get your green card, you may still have to wait a long time before you get your immigrant visa number and can proceed with the immigrant visa process to get your green card. This article explains immigrant visa numbers and how they differ from your Alien Registration Number (A-Number) and your USCIS case number.
Written by Immigration Help Team.
Written November 15, 2022
What Is an Immigrant Visa Number?
An immigrant visa number is an 8-character identifier. The National Visa Center (NVC) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will assign this number to you when you apply for a permanent immigrant visa.
To receive an immigrant visa number, someone must have already successfully submitted a petition on your behalf. This will be a Form I-130 if a family member is petitioning for you, or a Form I-140 if an employer is petitioning for you. Also, there must be an immigrant visa available for the applicant.
Getting a visa number can take a while because the U.S. government limits the number of immigrant visas available each year. The timeline also depends on your visa preference category, your nationality, and any backlogs USCIS is already experiencing.
What’s the Difference Between an Immigrant Visa Number, A-Number, Case Number, and Green Card Number?
You will receive several numbers throughout the immigration process. Each has its own role and significance. Understandably, it can be confusing to figure out what each number means and how it is used in different situations. To clarify, let’s differentiate between the immigrant visa number and three common numbers you may encounter during your immigration process: A-numbers, case numbers, and green card numbers.
Alien Registration Number (A-Number)
A-number is short for alien registration number. It is typically a 9-digit number with spaces between every three numbers. For example, 000 000 000.
It is used to identify and track all your immigration files and to identify you across multiple systems. USCIS assigns A-numbers to identify everyone who applies for or receives immigrant status in the U.S.
If you crossed the border into the U.S. without documentation and an official from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) picks you up, they will take your fingerprints and assign you an A-number.
Your A-number will be on all your immigration documents, so it’s important to know that number. You can find it on a Notice to Appear, a green card, an Employment Authorization Document, or your immigrant visa.
Case Number/Receipt Number
Your case number is also known as your receipt number. It is a unique 13-digit code, which usually starts with three letters followed by 10 numbers. For example, it might look like this: SRC 22 018 10000.
You’ll receive a receipt number for every immigration application that you submit. You can check your case status online by entering your receipt number.
Form I-551 Receipt Number/Green Card Number
If you are applying to become a green card holder, you will eventually file a Form I-551. USCIS will send you a 13-digit receipt number for your Form I-551, which is known as a green card number. Your green card number can be found on the backside of your green card (also known as a permanent resident card) at the bottom.
Your Form I-551 receipt number is in the first line of a long string of 90 characters, made of letters, numbers, and symbols. For example, C1USA0000000392SRC0000000000, where the bolded letters and numbers are the green card number.
Immigrant Visa Number
In contrast to the other numbers we’ve mentioned, the immigrant visa number (also known as the visa foil number) typically has eight digits. But in some cases, it will have one capitalized letter, followed by seven digits. This number can be found at the bottom of visa documents.
How Many Visa Numbers Are Available Each Year?
It depends! As mentioned above, immigrant visa numbers are only assigned to applicants once USCIS has accepted their application and an immigrant visa is available for their visa category and nationality. There are several green card eligibility categories. These categories include (but are not limited to) the following:
Employment-based green cards
Humanitarian green cards for asylee, refugee, or special immigration juveniles
Your eligibility is related to a preference category, or how high up on the list you are for getting a visa. Most of these categories have annual caps, meaning the number of green cards the U.S. government can issue is limited. One exception is immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens don’t have to wait to get visa numbers, so this is the fastest way to become a green card holder. Immediate relatives include spouses of U.S. citizens, unmarried children (under age 21) of U.S. citizens, and parents of U.S. citizens who are 21 and older.
Immigrants in most other categories must wait for visa numbers to become available.
How Do I Get an Immigrant Visa Number?
The first step to getting an immigrant visa number is applying for a green card. This process usually begins with a family member or employer petitioning on your behalf, but some people are eligible to self-petition with Form I-360.
After USCIS receives your petition and confirms it’s complete, it will mail you or your petitioner a confirmation letter with a receipt number/case number on it. This confirmation letter will give you a priority date which is the date that USCIS received your green card application. You can find yours on the Notice of Action (Form I-797) that USCIS sent you via mail or email after receiving your application.
Once USCIS approves your petition, it will send your application to the U.S. Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will hold your petition until an immigrant visa number becomes available. You can use your priority date and preference category to check the Visa Bulletin to see when a visa number is available for you. The bulletin is updated every month.
If your priority date is before the date listed on the visa bulletin you can submit your green card application. If your priority date is after the cut-off date, you need to wait to submit your green card application. Once your priority date has come into effect and an immigrant visa number is available then you can proceed with the green card process.
How Long Does It Take To Get an Immigrant Visa Number?
U.S. law limits the number of immigrant visas issued each year. There are limits by preference category, visa type, and country of origin. This means you may have to wait longer if you come from a country with a high demand for U.S. immigrant visas, such as India. Some applicants must wait months or years.
There are several resources you can use to check the current wait time. The U.S. Department of State posts a monthly visa bulletin that outlines current cut-off dates and wait times. Our article How to Read the U.S. Visa Bulletin can help you understand how to interpret the information you see on the visa bulletin. You can also see our monthly Visa Bulletin article, which breaks down the information in an easy-to-understand format.
Applying for a green card can feel complicated, but help is available. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the green card process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. If our app isn’t a good fit, we may be able to refer you to an experienced immigration attorney to help. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!