How does the US Visa Bulletin Work?
Issued monthly by the US Department of State, the US visa bulletin is a critical resource for individuals waiting to make their Green Card application. Green Card applicants use the US visa bulletin to track the progress of their application as it moves up the line. Once the application has reached the front, it can be progressed.
It also provides key information relating to the application process for US immigrant visas, including the latest figures on the availability of Green Cards and USCIS processing times.
The role of the US visa bulletin
The number of immigrant visas that can be issued within employment-based (EB), family-based (FB), and diversity lottery (DV) categories is capped annually by Congress. Currently, the limit is 675,000 per year.
It’s a complex system but in simple terms, the allocation is distributed between family-based green cards and employment-based green cards. This is then further layered with a ‘country cap’, a limit on the number of Green Card issued to citizens of each country.
Applications from any one country, or ‘chargeability area’, cannot account for more than 7% of the green cards in any particular category.
While European or African countries tend historically not to be affected by the country cap, oversubscription and substantial backlogs exist for applications from countries with larger populations, such as India, China, and Mexico.
The number of Green Card applications typically far outweighs the supply, creating backlogs. This is particularly the case for family-based categories and employment-based EB2 and EB3 categories. Oversubscription requires close and ongoing management by the authorities of the number of immigrant visas available and the number that can be processed and granted.
Against this backdrop, the US visa bulletin is used to share and update on how many Green Cards have been issued and how many remain available, and details priority and cut-off dates by category and country under the EB and FB categories.
What is the ‘priority date’?
The priority date marks your place in the line:
- Family-based applications – the date USCIS received your immigrant petition Form I-130
- Employment-based applications – the date your PERM labor certification was received by the DOL, or the date an immigrant preference petition (Form I-140) was filed, if no labor certification is required.
You can find your priority date on the I-797 form from USCIS approving your I-130 petition.
What is the cut-off date in the US visa bulletin?
The US visa bulletin details ‘cut-off dates’ for each category. The cut-off dates determine which priority dates or visa categories are ‘current’ and as such can be progressed without delay. Applications with priority dates prior to the cut-off date can be submitted for that category. Priority dates that are after the cut-off date must wait until the cut-off date is moved.
Cut off dates are set by the State Department and used to manage and control the allocation of visas across all categories by viewing the priority date of the first applicant who could not file for adjustment of status due to the previous month’s dates and quota.
When can I progress with my application?
Applicants who are subject to the immigrant visa quota will need to stay abreast of the cut-off dates and where their priority date is in relation to the cut-off date. The US visa bulletin provides this information to keep applicants up to date on where they are in the line.
If your priority date is earlier than the cut-off date, you can file an application to adjust status to permanent resident (Form I-485) or Consular Processing. You otherwise have to wait until the cut-off date passes your priority date.
Not all Green Card applicants are subject to the cap, such as spouses, partners and dependent children under the age of 21 of US citizens. These applicants can apply for a Green Card as soon as their I-130 petition is approved, without any backlog or wait.
Other visa categories which are subject to the cap are usually ‘current’, which means there is no backlog; EB1, EB4 and EB5 petitions, for example.
Spouses, partners and dependent children under the age of 21 of US Green Card holders however will join the line for the visa category. This could be around a 12-18 month wait – which is shorter than many other cap-limited categories such as the EB2 and EB3, where the backlog can stretch to years.
What does ‘dates for filing’ mean?
Dates for filing indicate which applications made outside the US can proceed with submission to the National Visa Center (NVC). While the Green Card is not yet ready, the application should be submitted.
It is a good idea to gather all the paperwork you will need in advance for your green card application, and to be ready to submit it as soon as the visa bulletin indicates that you are eligible. If you wait until a month after a green card becomes available to submit your application, you run the danger of a surprise retrogression in the ensuing visa bulletin and potentially missing your window of opportunity to submit your green card application.
What is ‘retrogression’?
A surge in applications in any given category can result in the cut-off date being moved backwards, known as ‘retrogression’. This can happen with advance warning or be unannounced in the US Visa Bulletin. This stresses the importance of having your application ready to be filed as soon as the priority date becomes current; failure to do so or to act in that month can result in delay if there is a visa retrogression thay closes your window.
US visa bulletin FAQs
What is priority date current?
When a priority date becomes “current”, this means it is at the front of the line and that a green card is now available.
How can I check my US visa priority date?
Your priority date can be found on your I-797 Notice of Action (I-130 Receipt Notice) or you can use the Approval Notice provided by USCIS after approving the petition.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.