How to Read the USCIS Visa Bulletin

Permanent Resident Green card of United states of America on flag of USA. Above close up view.

You must have heard about the Green Card backlog! Your immigration lawyer or law firm must have warned you of the years of waiting for a green card if you were born in India or China.

Obtaining a Green Card is an important milestone towards your path to Citizenship in the USA. It is true that green card wait time may run into years, and to help track progress; the United States government releases the Visa Bulletin publication on a monthly basis.

Bulletin lists which Green Card application dates are current or have moved up or down for filing your Green Card AOS – “Adjustment of Status” applications.

If your I-130 application has been filed, you can track progress and know when your green card application can move forward based on when your Green Card application (I-130) was filed.

This article will help you to understand how to read the Department of State visa bulletin. We update all immigration-related news, including the most recent visa bulletin, as soon as they are released on Path2USA.

What Is a Visa Bulletin?

If you or your family member has a green card or are planning to apply for one, you’ve probably heard of the Visa Bulletin.

A monthly visa bulletin is published by the US Department of State; the visa bulletin was created because a government measure limits green card issuances per year since the U.S.

Green card applicants are often far beyond this annual limit, which has caused an enormous amount of backlog for countries like China, India, and the Philippines. As a result, skilled workers have to wait years in their immigration process and for their green cards.

The Green Card is a federal green card. It is divided into complex categories which contain a certain number of categories.

The two most widespread groups are green cards based on family members (226k), which are marriage-based green cards, and employment-based green cards (140k).

About the US Visa Bulletin

The Department issues the USCIS green card Visa Bulletin every month. The visa announcement tells you when to proceed with your green card request depending upon when it was first filed. 

Once you submit the I-130 form, you can check the immigration Visa Bulletin to determine how long to wait before proceeding with green card applications. Parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 18 will not be required to read visa bulletins. In this case, you’re not waiting for your green card.

Purpose of Visa Bulletin

There is almost always a wait time for family preference categories because the number of people wanting to apply for the Visa far outnumbers the number of visas available. The Department of State issues immigrant visas (green cards) on a first-come, first-served basis in this situation.

It’s important to understand that just because your I-130 petition is approved doesn’t mean you’ll be able to come to the United States. You’ve established your place in line for a visa with an approved I-130 petition, but the visa isn’t yet available.

The priority date is what determines your exact position in line. When your visa bulletin priority date becomes “current,” you’ve made it to the front of the line. 

The US Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin that shows priority dates that have become current.

You should check the visa bulletin of the US Department of State to see if your immigrant petition is current. You can apply for a green card if your immigrant petition is current.

Why Is the Visa Bulletin Required Reading for Visa and Green Card Applicants?

The bulletin exists as the number of green cards issued are limited every year. For example, 140,000 employment-based Green Cards are issued every year, but a country cap of 7% makes it a long, endless waiting period for applicants born in countries like India & China.

This visa bulletin shows applicants’ changes in wait times and helps to monitor the queue.

Important Terms in a Visa Bulletin:

Priority Dates:

Each person who files a petition with the USCIS receives a priority date when the government receives their petition.

A person’s priority date determines their place in line for an immigrant visa.

Keep this information on hand in case you need to compare it with the dates listed in this bulletin.

Current:

In the context of the visa bulletin, “current” refers to the fact that there is no backlog and no wait time for a Green Card.

In other words, when a priority date reaches the front of the line, and a green card is available, it becomes “current.”

Charge-ability Areas:

This is the country of origin of the green card applicant.

Cut-off Dates:

The dates that appear on the visa bulletin tables are known as Cut-off Dates. Consider this date to be the first in line for a green card.

Green card applicants who have priority dates before the cut-off date are eligible to submit their applications.

Green card applicants with priority dates after the cut-off date should continue to wait.

Final Action Dates Chart:

The chart of “final action dates” shows which priority dates have advanced to the front of the waiting line.

Those certain green card applications are currently awaiting approval.

Dates For Filling Chart:

This chart shows which green card applicants living outside of the United States should submit their application to the National Visa Center (NVC) even if their green card is not yet ready.

The “dates for filing” chart has a slightly later cut-off date (1-10 months) than the “final action dates” chart, allowing green card applicants to file their applications sooner.

How to Determine Your Family Preference Category

Your family preference category is determined by the petitioner’s relationship with you. Different types of relationships are given different levels of priority when applying for an immigrant visa.

The petitioner is either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident family member if an I-130 petition was filed on your behalf.

Caps on green cards issued to family members are divided into four “preference categories.”

F1 (first preference):

Unmarried adults (age 21 and up) who are children of US citizens are given priority. The annual limit for this category is 23,400 green cards.

F2 (second preference):

Green card holders’ spouses and unmarried children. This category has a yearly cap of 114,200 green cards, but it is divided into two sub-categories:

  • F2A: Green card holders’ spouses and unmarried minor children (under the age of 21). This is the category to keep an eye on when checking the visa bulletin if you are a green card holder who has applied for a green card for your spouse. This F2A sub-category receives 77 percent of the second category quota (or 87,934 green cards per year).
  • F2B: Green card holders’ unmarried adult children (age 21 and up). This F2B sub-category receives 23% of the second category quota (or 26,266 green cards per year).
F3 (third preference):

American citizens’ married children, regardless of age. The annual limit for this category is 23,400 green cards.

F4 (fourth preference):

American citizens’ brothers and sisters. This category has a yearly limit of 65,000 green cards.

What Is Unique About the F2A Category?

If you look at the visa bulletin, you’ll notice that the F2A category has a much shorter wait for a green card than any other family-based preference category. That’s great news if you’re the spouse of a green card holder in the United States.

This category moves the fastest for two reasons. To begin with, it has the largest quota, with 87,934 green cards. Furthermore, 75 percent of Green Cards issued under the F2A category are exempt from the above-mentioned country cap.

As a result, the country of origin of a spouse seeking a green card is far less important than the country of origin of a green card applicant in another category.

What About Green Cards for the Spouses of US Citizens?

Green card holders can’t have their immediate family member’s green card reissued for more than one year. Since there’s no yearly limit, the waiting period and no visa bulletins will appear. Couples in the United States can apply for green cards when the I-130 is granted.

Is There a Limit on the Number of Green Cards for the Spouses of US Citizens?

It’s not a big deal. Neither spouse of a US citizen nor the spouse of a foreign national is subject to this limitation. Because the spousal green cards are no longer allowed, it is not advisable to review the visa bulletins. The spouse can apply immediately if the Petition I-130, Petition to Protect a Living Relative, is approved.

Section A: Final Action Dates

The timeline of the final actions shows when priority days reached their top priority. This green card application will be submitted soon.

Section B: Dates for Filing

According to the “date to submit” chart, Green Card applications should be submitted to the National Visa Center, even though they may still need a green card. The date of submission for Green Card applications is a little longer than the date of final actions.

Why Do Different Dates Matter in Green Card Filing?

In the case where Green Card applicants live outside the United States, the chart titled Dates for Filing enables you to begin assembling and submitting the necessary documents. This will start the ball rolling and assure the NVC everything will arrive at your priority date on the “final action schedule” chart. In the case of green card applicants who live in the U.S., a “date of filing” chart provides further benefits.

How to Read a Visa Bulletin

Proceed to the US State Department’s monthly visa bulletin once you’ve determined your priority date and preference category. Choose “Current Visa Bulletin” from the menu. To see a table similar to the one below, go to “Family-Sponsored Preferences.”

Compare your priority date to the date listed in your family preference category. Your immigrant visa is current if your priority date falls before the date listed.

The column labeled “All Charge-ability Areas Except Those Listed” is noticeable to the majority of people. If your nationality is China, India, Mexico, or the Philippines,  use the appropriate column for those dates.

FINAL ACTION DATES CHART FOR FAMILY-SPONSORED PREFERENCE CATEGORY (EXAMPLE CHART)

The first bulletin table shows the “Final Action Dates.” If your priority date comes before the date listed in this example chart, your visa number is available.

CategoryAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedMainland ChinaIndiaMexicoPhilippines
F-11-JUN-161-JUN-161-JUN-168-JUN-168-JUN-15
F-2A22-JAN-1522-JAN-1522-JAN-1522-JAN-1522-JAN-15
F-2B1-MAR-041-MAR-041-MAR-041-MAR-041-MAR-04
F-38-SEP-098-SEP-098-SEP-0915-MAR-0122-MAY-01
F-422-OCT-0722-OCT-071-MAR-0615-FEB-0115-MAY-04

DATES FOR FILING FAMILY-SPONSORED VISA APPLICATIONS (EXAMPLE CHART)

This second bulletin table shows when an eligible immigrant can apply for an immigrant visa. In particular, the applicant may file an AOS- “Adjustment of Status” application if his or her priority date is earlier than the date listed in the visa bulletin’s filing dates chart. If the intending immigrant will be applying through the consular process, the National Visa Center will begin the process with this chart.

CategoryAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedMainland ChinaIndiaMexicoPhilippines
F-11-FEB-151-FEB-151-FEB-151-MAR-0022-APR-15
F-2A2-JUN-052-JUN-053-JAN-025-MAR-158-JUN-14
F-2B1-DEC-151-DEC-151-DEC-1515-FEB-011-DEC-11
F-31-DEC-081-DEC-081-DEC-0815-OCT-971-JAN-02
F-41-APR-071-APR-071-APR-071-APR-07

Green Card Guide: How to Apply for a Green Card?

You may apply for permanent residence (Green Card) in the United States if your I-130 petition is now current. You can apply for your green card in one of two ways: consular processing or adjustment of status.

Consular Processing

If you are currently outside of the United States, consular processing is your only option for immigrating. The procedure of applying for a Green Card (immigrant visa) in the U.S. embassy or consular office in a foreign country is known as consular processing. The most common method of obtaining a green card is through consular processing.

Adjustment of Status

You may be able to adjust your status if you are currently in the United States. The term “Adjustment of Status” refers to a change in immigration status in the United States from temporary to permanent (Green Card holder). If a temporary visitor enters the United States lawfully and meets certain requirements, the individual’s status can be changed to permanent resident.

Green Card Guide: Column for Specific Countries

The visa bulletin has separate columns for China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines, as you can see. Because the annual demand for green cards in these four countries exceeds the 7% “country cap” described above, the wait time for a green card is often longer—and sometimes much longer—for citizens of these four countries.

 This means that each of these four countries has its backlogs and green card lines, which differ depending on the green card category.

Green Card Guide: What Is a Visa Retrogression?

The visa bulletin’s cut-off dates usually move forward over time, pushing green card applicants to the front of the line, but this isn’t always the case. 

When there are more green card applications than USCIS or the State Department expected in a given month, the cut-off dates for the following month may be pushed back. This is known as a “visa retrogression,” and it occurs most frequently in September (the end of the fiscal year for the government).

The visa bulletin may occasionally give advance notice of an approaching retrogression, giving green card applicants time to prepare. However, the visa bulletin may occasionally announce an unexpected visa retrogression, which is an unpleasant surprise for applicants who expect to move forward rather than backward in line. 

That’s why it’s a good idea to gather all of the documents you’ll need for your green card application ahead of time and be ready to file as soon as the visa bulletin indicates that a Green Card is available.

The Overall Limits for Employment-Based Green Cards

Workers apply for green cards according to priority and the following limit levels – mostly percentage levels:

EB-1 (Priority Workers): 28.6% of the global employment-based preference level, plus any numbers not required for the fourth and fifth preferences.

EB-2 (Members of Professions with Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability): 28.6% of the global employment-based preference level, plus any numbers not required by first preference.

EB-3 (Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers): 28.6% of the global workforce, plus any numbers not required by the first and second preferences.

EB-4: Special Immigrants account for 7.1 percent of all immigrants worldwide.

EB-5 (Job Creation): 7.1 percent of global employment, with at least 3,000 reserved for investors in a targeted rural or high-unemployment area and 3,000 set aside for investors in regional centers under Sec. 610 of Pub. L. 102-395.

USCIS Visa Bulletin Predictions

When it comes to the monthly green card Visa Bulletin, predictions can be made based on applicant numbers and the fiscal year’s cap for certain countries. Based on these numbers, predictions can be made for whether or not certain EB or FB green card priority dates will advance for certain countries. Path2USA will keep you updated on predictions for each coming month so that you can be vigilant when it comes to waiting for your green card priority date to arrive.

When is the US Visa Bulletin Released Every Month?

The USCIS Visa Bulletin is typically released 2-3 weeks early. For example, you’ll likely see a May bulletin released during the 2nd week of April.

Staying Up-to-Date with the US Visa Bulletin

In order to understand when you can apply or expect results from your green card application, it is important to stay up-to-date with the latest priority dates as they are released each month. Be sure to visit Path2USA.com regularly for same-day articles as soon as results are released, predictions for coming months, and visa bulletin latest news.