What is the Visa Bulletin?

If you are an immigrant to the United States who is trying to get permanent residency, you may have heard of the visa bulletin. What is it and how can you use it to get the information you need?

What is the visa bulletin?

The visa bulletin is a document published each month by the U.S. Department of State. The visa bulletin provides estimates of how long an immigrant should expect to wait for a green card at the current rate of processing. The wait time for a green card is determined by the number of people applying, as well as the number of green cards that are available.

Some categories of immigrants, such as the spouses of U.S. citizens, do not have any quotas, and therefore will not be subject to any wait time. However, many types of visas have limits on how many can be given out each year. If the number of applicants exceeds the number of available visas, then the remaining applicants join a queue to wait until more visas become available. At this point, the applicant will be given a “priority date.” A priority date is an estimate of when the applicant can expect to get a visa based on the rate of processing and how many people are ahead of them in the queue.

What date is the visa bulletin released?

The visa bulletin is published monthly, usually in the second or third week of the month.

What is the upcoming visa bulletin?

The upcoming visa bulletin is simply the following month’s visa bulletin that is due to come out next. The Department of State lists the upcoming visa bulletin on its website, but with no further information available beyond a banner announcing that it is coming soon.

How often is the visa bulletin updated?

The visa bulletin is updated once a month.

What is a cut-off date?

A cut-off date is the current priority date on the visa bulletin, meaning applications from these priority dates are ready to be processed.

What is the priority date in NVC?

NVC is the National Visa Center. After your immigrant visa petition has been approved by USCIS, it is sent to the NVC. Because there are yearly limits on family-based and employment-based immigration categories, you may have to wait for some time before your adjustment of status application is ready to be processed. You join a queue based on the date USCIS received your application. This date is your priority date. You can find your priority date on Form I-797, Notice of Action. When the dates in the visa bulletin catch up to your priority date, your visa or adjustment of status will begin processing.

How to Read the Visa Bulletin

There are four basic preference categories on family-based green cards — those available for spouses, parents, children, and other immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

  • F1: The first preference goes to unmarried adult children (over age 21) of U.S. citizens.
  • F2: Second preference goes to spouses and unmarried children of green card holders (permanent residents). Within this category are two subcategories.
    • F2A is for spouses and unmarried minor children.
    • F2B is for unmarried adult children.
  • F3: Third preference is for married children of U.S. citizens.
  • F4: Fourth preference goes to siblings of U.S. citizens.

There are caps on how many green cards can go to each of these categories every year. F1 allots 23,400 immigrant visas; F2 gets 114,000; F3 gets 23,400; and F4 gets 65,000. If any visa allotments are not used up, then the remainder can go to the next preference category. In addition, F2 is broken down into two subcategories. F2A, spouses and minor children, are allotted 77% of F2’s total limit, and 75% are exempt from the per-country limit. F2B gets the remaining 23% of F2’s total visa cap. For this reason, F2A is generally the fastest “line” to be in, due to the fact that it gets the largest number of available visas and that most in this subcategory are exempt from the country cap.

Important Terms in the Visa Bulletin

  • Priority date: This is the date that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your I-130 petition. This is the most critical piece of information, because it sets your place in the visa queue.
  • Current: This designation means there is no backlog in the category and you won’t have to wait in line for your green card. Current can also be used to mean that your priority date has moved to the front of the line. Current is designated by a “C” in the visa bulletin.
  • Chargeability area: Chargeability is the country towards which your visa will count towards a quota. For certain countries, there are many more visa applicants than there are available visas. For these countries, the annual number of immigrant visas is capped, and applicants from these countries will need to wait much longer for their green card. In the visa bulletin, these countries will have separate dates listed from the general priority date for all other countries of origin.
  • Cut-off date: The actual date listed on the visa bulletin for each category is the cut-off date. This is the priority date that is currently at the front of the line for green cards, and applicants with dates prior to the cut-off date are now able to submit their green card applications.
  • Family-sponsored Preference: This is a term applied to visas for “distant family relationships” with U.S. citizens or LPRs (Lawful Permanent Residents). The number of Family-sponsored Preference visas are limited by each year by the Department of State.

Final Action Dates

The final action dates chart lists which priority dates have reached the front of the queue and are ready to begin the approval process.

What happens when your green card priority date becomes current?

As soon as your priority date matches the cut-off date on the visa bulletin, you are ready to send in your application for your adjustment of status with USCIS.

What is retrogression?

Sometimes the cut-off date will move backward instead of forward. This is called retrogression, and it happens when more visas are applied for than are available in a particular month. Retrogression usually happens near the end of the fiscal year on September 30, when annual limits are close to running out.

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Caring and compassionate, Saman Movassaghi Gonzalez is a Florida immigration attorney dedicated to producing the results her clients need. She has over 17 years of experience helping both corporate and individual clients with an emphasis in employment/investment cases and family adjustment cases.

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