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What is the visa bulletin and why is it important

What is the Visa Bulletin?

The visa bulletin is where individuals who have filed petitions for various types of U.S. visas can see which round of Green Card applications are eligible to move forward in the process. The visa bulletin is updated and posted each month by the United States Department of State on its website. Individuals who have petitioned for a Green Card must refer to the visa bulletin to know where their Green Card application is in the approval process.

Why is the Visa Bulletin Important?

There is a limit on the amount of Green Cards that are issued each year, and each immigration visa category and every country of origin has its own annual limit of no more than 7% of the Green Cards in any given category. Because of these limitations, Green Card applicants often have to wait a long time until their application moves to the front of the line for approval. The visa bulletin is how applicants can understand when their Green Card application is ready for approval, or when applicants should file their application with the National Visa Center (NVC).

What Information Does the Visa Bulletin Have?

The visa bulletin contains a lot of information presented in a concise manner, which can make it difficult to understand if the terms used and charts are unfamiliar.

What are Statutory Numbers?

Statutory numbers refers to the statutory limit that is put on each visa category and country of origin. When employment-based and family-sponsored visa applications are filed in excess of the statutory limits, visas will be issued to eligible immigrants in the order in which a petition is filed.

The annual limit on employment-based visas is at least 140,000. The annual limit on family-sponsored is 226,000, with visas distributed to the family-sponsored visa categories:

  • First Preference (F1) Visa: Unmarried children of U.S. citizens. Capped at 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference
  • Second Preference (F2A & F2B) Visas: Spouses and children, and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents. Capped at 114,200.
  • Third Preference (F3) Visa: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Capped at 23,400 plus numbers not required by first and second preferences.
  • Fourth Preference (F4) Visa: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens. Capped at 65,000, plus any numbers not required by the first three preferences.

Each country is capped at 7% of the total annual visas for both employment-based and family-preference visas, or 25,620.

What are Dates for Filing and Final Action Dates?

For each of the major visa categories, the visa bulletin includes a chart that informs Green Card applicants of “dates for filing,” or “final action dates” along with cut-off dates. Cut-off dates are the month, day, and year shown beside each category on the charts that indicate whether an applicant has a Green Card available for them. Cut-off dates on the final action dates charts inform applicants when their Green Card is ready for approval. And, cut-off dates on the dates for filing charts inform Green Card applicants when it is time to submit their application with the NVC, which means the Green Card will likely be ready for approval within the next year.

Every individual applying for an immigrant visa is issued a priority date after his or her visa petition is filed. Both the final action date chart and the dates for filing chart on the visa bulletin shows a month, day, and year under the relevant visa category. If an individual applicant’s priority date is earlier than the listed final action date, then his or her Green Card is authorized for issuance. If an individual’s priority date is earlier than the listed date for filing, then the individual may file his or her application.

Why Do Specific Countries Appear on the Charts?

The visa bulletin includes a specific listing of dates for China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines because the United States receives excessive demand for Green Cards from these countries. The demand for Green Cards by individuals from these countries makes their wait time a lot longer. Due to the demand and the long wait, the visa bulletin shows the specific wait times to improve processing of these visas and better inform applicants.

What Does “C” and “U” Mean?

Some visa categories may show a “C” or “U” on a date of filing chart or a final action date chart. “C” is short-hand for “current.” On a date of filing chart, a “C” means that applications may be filed regardless of the applicant’s priority date because Green Cards are available. Likewise, on a final action date cart, a “C” means that numbers are authorized for issuance and there is no backlog within that category. “U” is shorthand for “unauthorized,” and appears on final action date charts. A category is unauthorized when no visas are authorized for issuance in that category.

Who Needs to Read the Visa Bulletin?

The visa bulletin shows the date of filing and final action dates for family-sponsored, employment-based, and diversity immigrant category visas. However, applicants who are the spouse, parent, or unmarried child under the age of 21 to a U.S. citizen do not face a Green Card backlog, and thus do not need to read the visa bulletin.

What is Visa Retrogression?

Retrogression occurs when more people apply for a visa in a particular category or from a particular country than there are visas available for that category or country in the given month. This causes the cut-off dates for the subsequent month to move backwards, pushing individuals further back in line than previously anticipated. This occurs most frequently around September, near the end of the fiscal year.

What are the Consequences of Retrogression?

If, due to retrogression, an applicant’s priority date no longer meets the cut-off date published in the visa bulletin at the time of adjudication, the applicant’s case will be held in abeyance until a visa is available.

For applicants who have already been interviewed at a USCIS office, but a visa is not available, the USCIS may hold their case at one of its service centers, based on whether the visa was family-sponsored or employment-based. Employment-based visa cases that have retrogressed are held at the Texas Service Center (TSC) once any required interview is completed and any other steps. Family-sponsored visa cases that have retrogressed are held at the National Benefits Center (NBC) once the interview is completed and any other steps.

If adjudication of an applicant’s Form I-485 does not require an interview at a USCIS office, the applicant’s case will be held at the USCIS Service Center where the applicant initially filed his or her application.

How are Adjustment of Status Cases Handled?

Individuals who are already living in the United States and would like to become a lawful permanent resident by obtaining a Green Card may file to adjust their status. When adjusting status, an applicant is given a priority date, much like other Green Card applicants, after the applicant’s employer or relative files an immigrant petition on the individual’s behalf or the Department of Labor accepts a labor certification for processing.

Once an applicant who is adjusting their status receives a priority date, he or she will refer to the visa bulletin for when to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. The applicant adjusting his or her status should also refer to the USCIS website before reading the visa bulletin to know whether the applicant should refer to the “Final Action Dates” chart on the visa bulletin for the current month or the “Dates for Filing” chart. The USCIS will designate one of the two charts each month for adjustment of status and will link to the relevant chart on its website within one week of the visa bulletin being published.

Individuals who are applying through adjustment of status may apply for a travel permit (or advance parole document) and work permit (or employment authorization document) at the same time the Form I-485 is filed.

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Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

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