What is the Visa Bulletin? Why is it important?

The Visa Bulletin summarizes immigrant visa availability and cut-off dates for family-based (FB), and employment-based (EB) preference categories, as well as Diversity Visa Lottery program for visa applicants worldwide. The charts in the visa bulletin show the cut-off dates by which visas are available for each preference category and country. Only petitions with priority date earlier than the published cut-off dates may be allotted immigrant visas or eligible for adjustment of status in the U.S. The Visa Bulletin is published every month by the Department of State.

Prospective immigrants should closely monitor the monthly movements in the Visa Bulletin to find out if and when they will become eligible for immigrant visas.

What are cut-off dates? How are they calculated?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) limits worldwide immigration level each year at 226,000 for family-based preference categories and 140,000 for employment-based categories. There is also a 7% per country limit for preference immigrants. In order to control immigrant visa allocation within the limitation set by the INA, the Department of State must establish cut-off dates to determine who is eligible to receive an immigrant visa.

Each month the Department of State Visa Office (VO) receives reports from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and all consular posts worldwide regarding the number of visas allotted or used. The VO then determines the cut-off dates for each preference and country based on several factors such as past visa number usage; estimates of future visa number usage and return rates; and estimates of USCIS demand based on cut-off date movements.

What is a priority date? What is the significance of the priority dates and the cut-off dates?

Priority date is the date when an I-130 Immigrant Petition for Alien Relative is properly filed with the USCIS. For I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, it is the date the Labor Certification is filed with the Department of Labor, and if no Labor Certification is required, then the date the I-140 is filed with the USCIS.

The priority date establishes the prospective immigrant's "place in line" in the preference category for the country in which he or she was born. The earlier priority date one has, the sooner one may receive an immigrant visa, or eligible to adjust status. Note that for the purpose of U.S. immigration, one's country of birth, not citizenship, is used.

For applicants in the preference system, the priority date and the cut-off date determine when they can file an application to adjust status (Form I-485) or apply for immigrant visas at the consulate. Only beneficiaries with priority date earlier than the cut-off date in the Visa Bulletin may apply for immigrant visas or adjustment of status. Otherwise, they must wait until the cut- off date to become "current"(pass their priority date).

Why are some preference categories for countries like India, Mexico, China and the Philippines so backlogged?

These countries have the highest demand for immigrant visas; therefore the cut-off dates are lagging behind the rest of the world. There are ways, however, to shorten the long waiting period. For example, if someone from China who has an approved 2nd preference employment based petition with a "non-current" priority date, he or she can become "current" by having an approved 1st Preference EB Petition, cutting several years of waiting time.

Is it always true that by becoming a U.S. Citizen one's relatives can reduce the waiting period for immigrant visas?

Under most circumstances it is advantageous to upgrade one's I-130 petition by becoming a U.S. citizen. However, if one's relative is from the Philippines and is in the family 2B preference (F2B, current cut-off date 10/1/2002), by becoming a US citizen, it does one's relative a disservice by changing to family 1st preference (F1, current cut-off date 02/01/1997), which has a longer waiting period than F2B.