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How the Visa Bulletin Works

As an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, I know that the Visa Bulletin is a source of much confusion. Here I’m going to explain the basics of how the Visa Bulletin functions in the hopes that it will give you greater insights into how your immigration case will be processed.

What is the Visa Bulletin?

The Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication by the U.S. Department of State that lets people know about what visas are available that month and what visa applications are being processed.

What visa categories does it refer to?

Some visa categories only have a limited number of visas available per year. These visa categories are called “preference categories.” There are 2 types of visa categories:

  • Family-based
  • employment-based preference

You can figure out which one applies to you by determining whether a family member or an employer is sponsoring your visa application.

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What visa categories does the visa bulletin NOT apply to?

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens DO NOT fall under the preference categories. There are no statutory limits on the number of visas that are available to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are:

  • Spouses (opposite-sex and same-sex couples)
  • Parents
  • Children (must be unmarried and under 21 years old)

Quick immigration tip: There are no derivative beneficiaries for immediate relative visa petitions! For example, if you are a U.S. citizen and you file a visa petition for your wife, then your foreign national children would not be included in the visa petition. You would need to file a separate petition for your children. But if you were a permanent resident, a visa petition for your wife would include all children (under 21 years old) as derivative beneficiaries.

What are the family-based preference categories?

First Preference (F1) : Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (21 years old or older)

Second Preference (F2A and F2B): Spouses and children, and unmarried sons and daughters of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs)

F2A: Spouses and children of green card holders

F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of green card holders  

Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (of any age)

Fourth (F4): Siblings of adult U.S. citizens

What are the employment-based preference categories?

First (1st):  Priority workers

Second (2nd):  EB-2 Members of the professions holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability including National Interest Waiver applicants.

Third (3rd):  Skilled Workers, professionals, and other workers

Fourth (4th):  Religious workers and certain special immigrants such as Iraqis who have assisted the United States, international organization employees, certain physicians, armed forces members, Panama Canal zone employees,

Fifth (5th):  EB-5 investors and employment creators

What is a priority date?

For family-based immigration cases, the priority date is the date that the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, was filed with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”).

Quick tip: You can find this date on the I-130 receipt notice under the section at the top of the page called “priority date.”

For employment-based immigration cases, the priority date is the date that the Department of Labor accepted the labor certification for processing.

What does “final action date” mean?

There are two charts under each section of the visa bulletin. They are:

  1. The “Final Action Dates” chart; and
  2. The “Dates for Filing Applications” chart.

The final action date refers to the date a visa can actually be issued.

What does “dates for filing applications” mean?

The “dates for filing applications” refers to the earliest date a person can submit their application materials for their visa or green card.

The dates in this chart are further along than the other chart. They are meant to allow you to submit your immigrant visa application or green card application materials before your priority date becomes current.

What does it mean for a priority date to become “current?”

If your priority date is EARLIER than the date listed in the column on the Final Action Dates chart for your visa category, then your priority date is considered “current.”

When your priority date becomes current, this means that a visa number is available in your category and could potentially be issued to you (assuming you’re otherwise eligible).

If your priority date falls AFTER the date listed in your visa category on the Final Action Dates chart, then your priority date is NOT current.

Do the dates on the visa bulletin charts always move forward?

Unfortunately, no. Sometimes they move backwards or “retrogress.” So, your priority date could be current one month, but it might move backwards the next month. This can and does happen sometimes.

It’s important to regularly check the visa bulletin to make sure that you don’t miss out on filing your immigrant visa application or your application to adjust your status.

How do you know whether to use the Final Action Dates chart or the Dates for Filing Applications chart?

Outside the U.S. (consular processing)

If you live outside the U.S. and are waiting for your priority date to become current, when your priority date reaches the point where it falls earlier than date in your preference category on the “Dates for Filing Applications” chart, the National Visa Center will reach out to you and let you know that you can start submitting your immigrant visa application materials to them.

You’ll still have to wait for your priority date to become current in order to be scheduled for an immigrant visa interview, though.

Inside the U.S. (adjustment of status)

If you live in the U.S. and are waiting for your priority date to become current, then each month when you check the visa bulletin, you should also be checking this website. It’s called is called “Adjustment of Status Filing Charts from the Visa Bulletin” and it’s maintained by USCIS.

USCIS will post on that website whether people who want to file applications for adjustment of status with USCIS have to use the “Final Action Dates” charts or whether they can used the “Dates for Filing Visa Applications” charts in the visa bulletin instead.

If there’s an update saying that you can use the Dates for Filing Visa Applications charts, then you check the visa bulletin for your preference category and see if your date is earlier than the date listed.

If it is, or if there’s a “C” in that category (meaning it’s current for all applicants), then you can submit your adjustment of status application materials to USCIS that month.

Who does the Dates for Filing Applications chart help?

This chart mostly helps individuals who are already in the U.S. in a nonimmigrant visa status who want to adjust their status and get a green card.

The early filing date allows them to avoid falling out of status and get their work authorization cards sooner while they wait for their priority date to become current.

What does the visa bulletin look like?

Here’s an example:

Month: October 2016                   Chart: Dates for Filing Family-Sponsored Visa Applications

 

Family-
Sponsored
All Chargeability Areas
Except Those Listed
CHINAINDIAMEXICOPHILIPPINES
F101JAN1101JAN1101JAN1101JUN9501MAY06
F2A22NOV1522NOV1522NOV15 22NOV15 22NOV15
F2B08FEB1108FEB1108FEB1101JUN9601FEB07
F322AUG0522AUG0522AUG0501MAY9501JAN95
F401JUL0401JUL0401MAY0401DEC9701APR94

 

Example of how to read the above chart: Let’s run through a hypothetical situation to help make more sense of this chart.

Let’s say you’re an unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen who is 25 years old and a citizen of Malaysia. Your mother is a naturalized U.S. citizen and has already filed your I-130. It’s been approved, but your priority date hasn’t become current yet. You’re living in Malaysia.

So, the first thing you have to do is figure out what preference category you’re in. Based on your facts, you have family-based case and you are in the F1 preference category.

The next thing you need to do is figure out what your priority date is. Let’s say it’s December 15, 2011.

Now that you know to look under the family-based chart, you need to figure out whether you should look at the Final Action Dates chart or the Dates for Filing Applications chart.

Since you’re living in Malaysia, you’re applying for an immigrant visa and not for adjustment of status. This means you don’t need to look at the USCIS website to determine whether you should be using the Final Action Dates or the Dates for Filing Applications chart.

Instead, you should assume that you should look at the Dates for Filing Applications chart. So, you look at the Family-Sponsored Preference Cases Dates for Filing Applications chart under the F1 category and under “All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed.”

So, you’re looking at the intersection of the first row and the first column. You see that the date listed is January 1, 2011.

Ask yourself: Is your priority date BEFORE that date?

  • No, yours is December 15, 2011. So, you need to keep waiting.
  • Once your priority date reaches the point that it falls before the date listed in your category in the Dates for Filing Applications chart, the National Visa Center should reach out to you to let you know that you can start submitting application materials to them.

Important Note: Once the National Visa Center reaches out to you about submitting application materials, keep in mind that you will not be scheduled for a visa interview until your priority date falls before the date listed in the Final Action Dates chart. In the example given above, the October 2016 Dates for Filing Applications chart shows that the National Visa Center is starting the visa application process for people in the F1 preference category with a priority date that falls before January 1, 2011. However, according to the Final Action Dates chart for the same month of October 2016, the only people being scheduled for a visa interview in the F1 preference category are those with a priority date that falls before September 22, 2009.

Let a Los Angeles Immigration Attorney help you figure it out!

If you’re confused by the visa bulletin, don’t worry – you’re not alone! Los Angeles Immigration Attorney Joshua Goldstein and his team of immigration attorneys are here to help. Contact the Goldstein Immigration Lawyers today for a consultation. Just call (213) 262-2000 or submit an inquiry through the firm’s convenient online form and you’ll find help is just a consultation away!