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How to Read the Visa Bulletin

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

The latest visa Bulletin:

The latest visa bulletin can be found here


What is the Visa Bulletin?


If you’ve ever planned to apply for a Green Card or if you’ve applied for one and are stuck in a backlog, you’ve probably heard the term Visa Bulletin. But what exactly is a Visa Bulletin, how to read it and why is it so important, is what we’ll discuss in this Guide.


The visa bulletin is issued every month by the Department of State.


It shows which green card applications can move forward, based on when their I-130 (Petition for an Alien Relative) or I-140 (petition for an Alien Worker) petition that starts the green card process was originally filed. It also lets you estimate how long it will take before you will be able to get your green card, based on how quickly the “line” is moving now. Once your GC petition has been filed, you’ll be able to check the visa bulletin and watch your place in line move forward.

How to read the Visa Bulletin for Green Card
How to read the Visa Bulletin for Green Card

What’s the need for a Visa Bulletin?


The Visa bulletin exist because the Congress has set a restriction to the number of Green Cards that can be issued each year.


But as we all know, the number of people who want a Green Card far outweighs the number of people who can get one in a given year. This has resulted in a backlog. In fact, a huge backlog.


The government can issue up to 675,000 green cards each year. Of this number, 480,000 visas are reserved for “family preference” immigrants; 140,000 for employment-based immigrants; and 55,000 for Diversity Visa lottery winners. Any family-based green cards that are unused at the end of the fiscal year are added to the next year’s available employment-based green cards.


In addition to the limit set above for each category, the Congress has also set a limit on the number of Green Cards it can issue to people from a particular country – country of origin. Under this annual “country cap,” no single country of origin can account for more than 7% of the green cards in any particular category.


This is not a problem for people who are from smaller European or even African nations. The number of GCs available for them exceeds the demand. However, for countries like India, China, Mexico and Philippines, where the demand far exceeds the number of Green Cards available, it has caused a huge backlog.

Categories and number of Green cards allotted
Categories and number of Green cards allotted

What categories does the Visa Bulletin Show?


The visa bulletin shows the Cut-off dates for Family based Green Cards and Employment based Green Cards. There are different categories within these categories as well. They are explained below at the end of the Guide:


Important Terms to understand in the Visa Bulletin


Priority date:

This is the date when USCIS received your Green Card Petition i.e. I-130 or I-140. Consider this as the date when you got in the line for a green card. This date can be found on the I-797 form mailed to you by USCIS when they approved your petition.


Current:

In the Visa Bulletin, ‘Current’ means that you have reached the front of the line and there are no more backlogs. A priority date becomes current when there’s no wait time to apply for your Adjustment of Status and a Green Card is available. For example, EB-1 category is Current for everyone and there’s generally no backlog or wait for a Green Card for people applying in that category.


Chargeability area:

Remember the Country cap? Chargeability area here means the Country of Origin. Your green card will be “charged” towards the annual quota of Green Cards available to citizens of your country of birth.


Immediate relative:

An Immediate relative is basically a spouse, parent, or child (under age 21) of a U.S. citizen.


Cut-off date:

The Visa Bulletin has tables listed for each category under which a Green Card is applied. In these tables, the dates that you see are called the cut-off dates. A cut-off dates is the front of the line date. This means that all those people who have a priority date before the cut-ff date are now eligible to apply for an Adjustment of Status and get a green card. Those who have a priority date after the cut-off date still have to wait.


Section A: Final Action Dates

The “final action dates” chart shows which priority dates have reached the front of the line. These green card applications are ready for approval right now.


Section B: Dates for Filing

The date for filing chart shows which GC applicants living outside the US can go ahead and submit their application with the National Visa Center. The cut-off dates in the “dates for filing” chart are slightly later (1-10 months) than those in the “final action dates” chart, which allows green card applicants to file their applications that much sooner.


The “dates for filing” chart is primarily directed at people who will be applying for a green card from outside the United States, but USCIS publishes a page called “when to file your adjustment of status application” every month that indicates whether green card applicants living in the United States can submit their green card application based on the visa bulletin’s “dates for filing” chart or whether they need to wait to meet the dates in the “final action dates” chart.


This happened in September 2020 because the Trump administration had banned green cards for people outside the US.


Country-Specific Columns

These columns exist because of the County cap and the amount of backlog for people with these country of origin is much larger. The country specific columns exist only for India, China, Mexico and Philippines.


What is Retrogression?

When you’re in line, you would ideally expect to move forward. That’s how it should work right? But that happens in a literal queue. But that isn’t the case with the GC backlog.


When there are more applications for a green card category in a given month than USCIS or the State Department was expecting, the cut-off dates for the subsequent month might move backwards. This is called a “visa retrogression,” and it’s most common around September (the end of the government’s fiscal year).


You can read the latest Visa Bulletin here.


Categories of Family and Employment based Green Cards are explained below


FAMILY-SPONSORED PREFERENCES


First: (F1) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.


Second: Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents: 114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused first preference numbers:

  • A. (F2A) Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit.

  • B. (F2B) Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents: 23% of the overall second preference limitation.

Third: (F3) Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.


Fourth: (F4) Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens: 65,000, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences.


EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCES


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


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


Third (EB 3): Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers: 28.6% of the worldwide level, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences, not more than 10,000 of which to "*Other Workers".


Fourth (EB 4): Certain Special Immigrants: 7.1% of the worldwide level.


Fifth (EB 5): Employment Creation: 7.1% of the worldwide level, not less than 3,000 of which reserved for investors in a targeted rural or high-unemployment area, and 3,000 set aside for investors in regional centers.

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