How To Read the U.S. Visa Bulletin

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The U.S. Department of State (DOS) releases a monthly Visa Bulletin that has information on the current availability of immigrant visas. It contains the applicant’s country of birth, the type of visa being applied for, and the applicant’s priority date. This bulletin specifies the visa available dates for upcoming immigrants based on their priority dates.

From this article, you will come to know

  • What is a visa bulletin?
  • How do you read the visa bulletin?
  • Which charts do you use?
  • And what happens when your priority dates become current?

What is the Visa Bulletin?

The Visa Bulletin is a crucial monthly document issued by the U.S. Department of State. It specifies the cutoff dates for green card applications based on the applicant’s country of birth and when they filed their I-130 or I-140 petition, indicating when visas are available. The Visa Bulletin serves as a vital resource for individuals seeking permanent residency in the United States.

For Whom is the Visa Bulletin?

The Immigration and Nationality Act sets no limits on Green Cards for immediate relatives (Parents, spouses, and unmarried children (below 21)) of U.S. citizens. So they do not need to wait for a visa number availability by checking the visa bulletin. Anytime they can apply and submit the green card applications.

The spouses and unmarried children who are below 21 years old of U.S. green card holders have to wait for 12-18 months before they can obtain their green cards. On the other hand, applicants who belong to different categories of green cards may encounter different waiting periods, which can extend from several years to several decades. They need to check the visa bulletin for their visa availability.

The same applies to employment-based green cards. They need to check the visa availability through the visa bulletin for further processing.

Recommended Article: Check the Final Action Dates and Dates For Filing of January 2024

Limits on Each Category of Green Cards

The U.S. government has a limited number of green cards and visas to be issued each year. To manage the green card backlog of applications from foreign nationals visa bulletin is used by the government.

The U.S. government also sets a limit of green cards by country wise. In each category, no single country can receive more than 7% of all green cards. Countries (China, El Salvador, India, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the Philippines) with high population face more backlogs in the processing of their green card applications.

Every year U.S. government provides 366,000 green cards approximately to all categories. Of that 226,000 for family-based green cars and 140,000 for employment-based green cards. The below table shows the categories and count of green cards allotted to the respective categories. For this Fiscal year 2023 employment-based green cards are high than earlier years.

CategoryNumber of Green Cards Issued Annually
Family First Preference F1 (Parents, unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens)23,400
Family Second Preference F2 (spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (21 years and above) of lawful permanent residents)114,200
Family Third Preference F3 (married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens as well their spouses and minor children)23,400
Family Fourth Preference F4 (brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children)
Note: U.S. citizens must be 21 years and above.
Employment-based category (EB-1, EB-2 & EB-3 receive 28.6%) and (EB-4 and EB-5 receive 7.1%) in overall limit.197,000
Green Card Categories and number of green cards provided for each one.

How To Read the Visa Bulletin

Important Terminologies in the Visa Bulletin

There are a few important terms you need to know in the visa bulletin. The terms are:

  1. Priority Date: The date when USCIS receives your petition is called priority date. This is important because you can determine the wait time for your green card. Example: If you file the Form I-130 you will receive your priority date in the Form I-797.
  2. Current Date: Current means, there is no backlog and no wait time for the green card in the visa bulletin. When there is a availability of the green card and you reaches front in the queue priority becomes current. The queue moves as first come first server basis.
  3. Chargeability Area: Your country of birth is referred to as your chargeability area. USCIS use this information to include your green card application in the quota for your particular foreign country. (As mentioned as above 7% for a country)
  4. Immediate Relative: The U.S. citizen’s spouse, parent, or child (age below 21). Family-based green card applicants will come under this category.
  5. Cut-off date: The cut-off date is referred as dividing line to identify one who is eligible to apply green card or have to wait some more time. One can apply the green card if the priority date is before the cut-off date and one must wait some more time if the priority date is before the cut-off date.

Reading Date Charts

There are two charts you need to check in the visa bulletin. They are:

  1. Final Action Date
  2. Dates For Filing

Final Action Date

The chart displaying the “final action dates” represents the priority dates that have reached to the front of the line, and the corresponding green card applications are currently eligible for approval.

Dates For Filing

“The ‘Dates for Filing’ chart indicates the eligibility criteria for applicants outside the U.S. to submit their green card application process with the National Visa Center (NVC), even if a green card is not yet available. The cut-off dates listed in the ‘Dates for Filing’ chart are slightly later (by 1-10 months) than those specified in the ‘Final Action Dates’ chart, allowing green card applicants to file their applications earlier.”

Why Final Action Date & Dates For Filing is Important?

“The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created the dates for filing chart specifically for individuals who are applying for green cards from outside the United States through a local U.S. consulate or embassy (consular processing). USCIS also maintains a dedicated webpage for green card applicants residing in the United States. This webpage specifies whether these applicants can submit their applications based on the dates for filing chart listed on the visa bulletin or if they must follow the dates indicated on the ‘Final Action Dates’ chart instead.”

Green card applicants who live in the U.S. can start their adjustment of status application by completing and submitting Form I-485, which is the application to register permanent residence or adjust their status. Along with this application, they can also apply for a work permit (Employment Authorization) or a travel permit (Advance Parole document). These benefits can provide the opportunity to work or travel outside the United States while waiting for a decision on their green card application.

Country-Specific Column Details

While checking the visa bulletin you can notice separate sections for the countries like China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines. Individuals who want to obtain a green card from these countries have to wait for long time. The reason for this is due to their yearly demand for green cards surpassing the 7% “country cap” as previously stated. There is a separate backlog and queue for each of these four countries, varying by category of green card.

For F2A preference subcategory green card the wait time may be shorter for the spouses from China, El Salvador, India, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the Philippines. This is because most green card applications in this subcategory are not subject to the country cap. However, other relatives from these countries may have to wait for years or even more than a decade, depending on their circumstances.

What is Visa Retrogression?

The visa bulletin usually shows forward progress on cut-off dates. However, occasionally, the USCIS and the Department of State receive a higher number of green card applications for specific categories in a month than expected. In such cases, the cutoff dates for the following month may regress backward. The USCIS refers to this as “visa retrogression.” Visa retrogressions usually occur in September, which marks the end of the fiscal year. Sometimes prior information will be provided by the visa bulletin about the visa retrogression.

To avoid visa retrogressions, it’s important to be ready to submit your green card application as soon as the bulletin indicates that a green card is available for you. Failing to file your application during a month when a green card is available could result in retrogression in the following month, leading to further delays in the processing of your application.

If you have already submitted your green card application and USCIS announces a visa retrogression, your application will be put on hold until it can be reviewed during the next available opportunity. To ensure that you receive any updates from USCIS regarding your application, it’s important to keep your contact information, including your current address, up to date.

If you haven’t submitted your green card application yet and USCIS declares a visa retrogression, you’ll have to wait until your priority date becomes current again before you can proceed with filing your application.

What’s the Next step?

Are your priority date current? It’s the right time to apply for a green card through adjustment of status or consular processing. ImmigrationDirect ‘s easy-to-use online software makes it easy for your immigration petition. And we understand the significance of receiving correct guidance to accomplish tasks promptly. Based on your current situation you will also get customized filing instructions. We provide our services with lawyer consultation. Get started with your application today!

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