A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

How to use the Visa Bulletin

If you are interested in immigrating to America, the monthly Visa Bulletin published by the U.S. Department of State is a document that you should understand well.  This article describes how one may read and use the Visa Bulletin as a tool to guide them through the immigration process.

What is the Visa Bulletin?
The U.S. Congress by law only allows fixed numbers of foreign nationals to immigrate to the United States every year.  For example, only 140,000 visa numbers are available for employment-based immigrants per year.  These visa quotas are not sufficient to meet the demands for visa numbers.  As a result, lines are formed for foreign applicants who wish to immigrate to the United States.  Visa numbers are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. The Visa Bulletin is the reference material for applicants to find out where they stand in line at a given time.

How do I find the current Visa Bulletin?
The Visa Bulletin is published by the State Department every month.  You can also subscribe to our legal blog to get the month visa bulletins and analysis.

What visa categories does the Visa Bulletin cover?
The Visa Bulletin covers most of the employment-based immigrant visa categories.  For immigration based on family relationship, the Visa Bulletin only covers four main preference visa categories.  The Visa Bulletin does not cover immediate relative petitions.  Immediate relatives are the spouses, parents and unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens.  Immediate relatives are not subject to the annual visa limits. 

What is your priority date?
In order to use the Visa Bulletin to check the status of your case, you need to know what your case priority date is.  You can think of the priority date as the date that your case was formally started. For family petitions, it is generally the date that the Form I-130 was properly filed with the U.S. government.  For employment petitions, it is the date that the Permanent Foreign Certification or the Form I-140 visa petition was properly filed. 

How to use the Visa Bulletin?
Let's say you are 25 and single, born in the Philippines, and you were sponsored by your father (who is a permanent resident of the U.S.)  The I-130 visa petition was submitted on 12/05/2008 (priority date) to USCIS with the correct fees and all required documents. Today is 12/1/2019 and you would like to know whether you are eligible for a green card yet.  First, you look for the Final Action Date table for Family Preference categories in the December 2019 Visa Bulletin.  (Note - AD stands for Final Action).  Then, you look at the date for your particular country and preference category. Here, it would be Philippines' F2B (unmarried adult sons or daughters of lawful residents).  The table shows a Final Action cutoff date of 12/01/2008.  Since your priority date (12/05/2008) comes after 12/01/2008, it means that your priority date is not yet current.  Your priority date must be BEFORE the cutoff date (12/01/2008) in order for you to receive an immigrant visa.

Even if you have a current priority date, don't expect that you will get your green card in the mail soon.  Generally speaking, it means that the U.S. government may legally issue a green card or an immigration visa (for overseas applicants) to you.  You must still meet other legal and documentary requirements.  In most cases, it usually means that you still have to submit your final applications and documents or attend an interview with an immigration or consular officer first before your green card can be approved. 

What is the Filing Date Table?
In the Visa Bulletin, in addition to the Final Action Date tables, there are also Filing Date tables.  The Filing Dates are used by the State Department for overseas applicants. While The Final Action dates control when a person can actually become a U.S. lawful resident, the Filing dates determine when an applicant may  pay the visa fees and submit the final documents required for immigration such as police clearances and financial support documents.  However, the USCIS, which processes immigration petitions filed within the United States, may choose not to follow the Filing dates at any given month. If so, you must submit  your green card application (generally the Form I-485 Adjustment Application) based on the Final Action Dates. See here for how to file for Adjustment of Status.

Final Words
You must always use the Visa Bulletin for the current month to check your place in the visa line.  But you may use next month's Visa Bulletin for planning purposes. Your country of birth, not country of nationality, determines which column of cutoff dates to follow.  "Other Countries" refer to all worldwide countries that have not been separately listed.  "C" means that there is no line and all applicants are eligible to receive a visa.  "U" means visa numbers are temporarily unavailable for a particular category, regardless of your priority date. 


Anonymous said...

How to know my priority date for scheduled interview in the embassy so that i can be ready if ever

Paul Szeto said...

Interviews for immigrant visas are scheduled by the State Department at U.S. Consulates and Embassies after NVC processing is complete (typically within a few months). It also depends on how busy the particular U.S. Consulate is. Most importantly, your priority date must be current (before the Final Action Date) before an interview will be scheduled.