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How to Decipher and Read the U.S. Visa Bulletin

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Every month, around the end of the first week, the Department of State issues a Visa Bulletin to inform the public how many immigrant visas have been issued (i.e.: how many greencard “slots” have been issued.”)  The charts on the visa bulletin are a bit confusing because there are many different categories and countries.  Sometimes, the indications move backwards (“retrogress”) instead of moving forwards, thereby making wait times for a greencard even longer.

How exactly does one decipher and read the Visa Bulletin?  While there are plenty of articles, there are few visual aids.  We’re attempting to tackle this task today!

Read Me First: The Visa Bulletin indicates when a foreign national may either submit their greencard application, or, if the application has already been submitted, when the government is currently reviewing that application.  “When” this occurs is based on when the underlying immigrant petition was initially submitted to USCIS.  That date is considered a “priority date” and will be notated on the immigrant visa petition approval.

Step 1: Visit the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin webpage.  There are usually links to the current month and the next month’s chart.  There are also links to archived bulletins from past years.  Select the link you wish to inspect.

US Visa Bulletin

Step 2: Locate your “Preference” charts.  The Preference is the basis for which the applicant is eligible to apply for a greencard.  There are three preferences:

  1. Family Preference: when a relative sponsors you for a greencard
  2. Employment Preference: when you are eligible to apply for a greencard through employment purposes
  3. Diversity Lottery Preference: when you are eligible to apply based on the Diversity Lottery. Read more about it here.

Today’s article focuses on the second preference based on employment charts.  (You’ll notice there are two charts under this preference.  Chart A. Final Action Dates is normally the default chart.  We’ll address the issue of why there are two charts at Step 4).

Step 3: Locate your Employment-Based (EB) preference category.  For example, let’s say your employer filed an immigrant petition based on the EB-3 category.  Then your preference category would be “3rd”.  Then, locate the country you were born.  The intersection where the preference category meets the country of birth is the visa date the government is current reviewing greencard applications.  In the example in the illustration below, an Indian national who is 3rd preference category would have a visa date of March 8, 2005.  This means that if the priority date on the Indian national’s I-140 immigrant petition approval notice is March 8, 2010, the Indian national would be waiting another five years before her priority date will be current and she will be eligible to submit her greencard application.  (Note that if she had already submitted her greencard application, then the government will review her application once her priority meets or precedes the visa date indicated on the Visa Bulletin.

How to Read US Visa Bulletin

Q:  What if the intersection date say’s “C”?  “C” stands for current.  Priority dates that are current means that applicants who submit their greencard applications need only to wait as long as it takes an officer to review the case.  They applicant doesn’t experience the long delays that are found in other preference categories.

Q: Why is 1st Preference Category current for all country nationals?  This is usually the case because the number of applicants in this category seldom exceed the visa quota imposed in this category.  In other words, when there are plenty of visas allotted for that category, and the number of applicants are low, the visa dates are almost always current.

Q: I checked last month and my priority date preceded my preference category date.  This month, when I checked again, I noticed the date moved backwards.  What does this mean?  When visa dates move backwards from the prior month instead of advancing, this means that visa numbers “retrogressed.”  This is a calibration method by the Department of State.  The Department of State controls the Visa Bulletin but both the Department of State and USCIS issue visa numbers.  As a result, USCIS must report to the Department of State how many visa numbers were by USCIS so that the Visa Bulletin can be adjusted.  Sometimes, part of that adjustment means that visa dates retrogress in order to ensure the correct amount of visa numbers are issued for the fiscal year in that preference category.  (There is a finite number of visas that can be issued per category.)

Step 4: Why are there two different Employment-Based charts and what do they mean?

vb3

Back in the days when only one chart was used, Chart A. Final Action Dates was the only chart.

Chart B. Dates for Filing was the delayed implementation of President Obama’s Executive Action recommendation in November 2014 for the Department of State to modernize its greencard backlog.  It was first introduced back in September 9, 2015 for October 2015’s Visa Bulletin but quickly created a lot of confusion.  A revised October 2015 Visa Bulletin was issued on September 25, 2015.  The basis for the second chart was to equalize the amount of time individuals would generally have to wait to submit their greencard applications.  USCIS process applications from individuals in the U.S. waiting to apply for their greencards whereas the Department of State processes applications from individuals waiting.  The wait times for either queue were not equitable so Chart B was meant to equalize the wait times.

Q: How do I know whether I should use Chart A or Chart B?  If you are waiting in the U.S. and planning on “adjusting your status”, then you may use Chart B only when USCIS had indicated it is okay to do so.

Step 5: You can determine when USCIS says it’s okay to rely on Chart B usually by mid-month of each month. USCIS will update is visa bulletin instructions webpage and instruct whether to use “Final Action Dates” chart or “Dates for Filing” chart for both the current month and the next month.  (See screenshot below.)

Final Action or Filing Date Chart

So there you have it; a very easy tutorial on how to read the Visa Bulletin.  If you want more tips like this, subscribe to this blog!

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