Learn how to read and understand a visa bulletin

June 13, 2022 by Martyna Ostapczuk

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What is a visa bulletin and who publishes it?

The Visa Bulletin indicates which green card applications can move forward, based on when the I-130 petition was filed. Additionally, it helps you estimate the timelines of being able to get your green card, based on how quickly the “line” is moving now. After filing your I-130 petition, you’ll be able to monitor the visa bulletin and check the progress of the line.

The Visa Bulleting is a monthly publication issued by the US Department of State and it includes the below information:

  • The categories (family and employment) that are eligible to file a green card application (typically an   I-485 application or an I-130 petition):
  1. The spouse, parent, or unmarried child (under age 21) of a U.S. citizen, has an unlimited number of visas available, so no need to worry about the visa bulletin
  2. For the spouse or unmarried child (under age 21) of a U.S. green card holder there is a waiting time of extra 12-18 months for green card to become available
  3. Everyone else, the waiting time might vary
  • Based on the waiting times issued for that month, it indicates the time estimates for how long it will take to get your green card (or visa)
  • The status of the applications, which are ready for review

Why is there the visa bulletin? What is its purpose?

As the Congress caps the number of green cards to be issued on a yearly basis and the number of people who are seeking green cards consistently exceeds the annual limit, there’s always a backlog. What is more, there are additional limits depending on the country the person applying for a green card lives in. That is why the bulletin’s purpose is to enable applicants to monitor their place in line. It is worth mentioning that the cap number might vary depending on the year.

366,000 is the total number of green cards available annually, but it is broken down into a complex category system, with a specific quota for each category. The first category family-based green cards has the number of 226,000 green cards available, which include marriage-based green cards, and the second is employment-based green cards  with the number of 140,000.

There is also an additional “country cap” established by a Congress, which limits the green cards in any particular category, by country, to 7.1%. European and African countries usually don’t exceed their country’s cap. On the other hand, China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines have huge backlogs.

How to understand the visa bulletin?

Priority date

Due to the fact that there is a wait list, as there is a limit for family preference immigrant visas, the applicant can check the priority date to see their “place in line”.  The filing date of the petition becomes the applicant’s priority date. When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepts the form, they will also assign a priority date.

The Family-Preference category

It is the type of relationship you have with the petitioner. The caps on family-based green cards are broken down into four primary “preference categories”:

F1 (first preference): Unmarried adults (age 21 and over) who are children of U.S. citizens. The cap for this category is 23,400 green cards per year.

F2 (second preference): This category is for the spouses and unmarried children of green cardholders. This overall cap for this category is 114,200, plus any unused first preference numbers. It is further split into below two subcategories:

  • F2A: This category is reserved for spouses and unmarried minor children (under age 21) of green card holders. If you are a green card holder who has applied for a green card for your spouse, this is the category you’ll need to watch when you check the visa bulletin. 77% of the F2 category goes towards this F2A sub-category (The cap number is 87,934 green cards per year).
  • F2B: Unmarried adult children (age 21 and over) of green card holders. 23% of the F2 category goes towards this F2B sub-category (The cap number is 26,266 green cards per year).
  • F3 (third preference): This category is for married children of U.S. citizens, regardless of age. The cap for this category is 23,400 green cards per year.
  • F4 (fourth preference): This category is for the siblings of US citizens. The cap number is 65,000 green cards each year.

The wait times for the F2A green cards are much shorter than for the other family-based categories, due to two reasons. First of all, this category has the largest number of possible green cards – 87,934. Secondly, there is one less problem for applicants, namely, there is an exemption for the country of origin exemption (the country of origin cap).

What are the common terms used in the visa bulletin? What must I know to read the visa bulletin terms properly?

Priority date:  The filing date of the I-130 petition becomes the applicant’s priority date. When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepts Form I-130, they will also assign a priority date.

Current: Simply means that there is no backlog and no wait time for a green card. Whenever a particular priority date becomes “current” it means it is at the front of the line. If your I-130 petition is now current, you may apply for permanent residence (green card) in the United States.

Chargeability area: This term is used for the green card applicant’s country of birth. It is important as there are also additional country caps. Applicant’s green cards will be “charged” toward the annual quota of green cards available to citizens of their country of birth.

Immediate relative: A spouse, parent, or child (under age 21) of a U.S. citizen.

Cut off date. The dates on the Visa Bulletin tables are called “cut-off dates.” This date is the front of the green card line. If your priority date is before/earlier than the cut-off date – then you can apply for a green card. If your priority date is after/later than the cut-off date, you need to keep waiting in line.

Usually, the cut-off dates on the visa bulletin move forward in time, but they might go backwards. Visa retrogression happens in a situation when there is overdemand in some  particular category or country for that month. The Visa Bulletin tables are called “cut-off dates.” This date is the front of the green card line. If your priority date is before/earlier than the cut-off date – then you can apply for a green card. If your priority date is after/later than the cut-off date, you need to keep waiting in line.

What is the difference between the final action date vs date of filing?

Section A: Final Action Dates

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

Section B: Dates For Filing

This chart is aimed at the people who are living outside of the United States. It says which green card applicants can go ahead and submit their application with the National Visa Center (NVC)—even though a green card is not ready just yet. 

Due to the fact that the cut-off dates in the “dates for filing” chart are slightly later (1-10 months) than those in the “final action dates” chart, green card applicants are able to file their applications much sooner.

The green card applicants living in the United States, can check a page called “when to file your adjustment of status application” published by USCIS every month. It indicates they 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.

Why Are These Dates are important?

The “dates for filing” are especially important for green card applicants living outside the United States, this  chart allows them to get an early start on assembling and submitting all the required documents to the National Visa Center (NVC). Thanks to that, NVC has all documentation in place once their priority date appears in the “final action dates” chart and a green card is available to them.

On the other hand, the “dates for filing” chart provides additional benefits to green card applicants living in the United States. That’s because they can simultaneously apply for a work permit (employment authorization document) and travel permit (advance parole document) when filing a green card application with USCIS (technically an I-485 form for “adjustment of status”). It is extremely crucial for  applicants who plan to work in the United States or travel outside the United States while waiting for their green card applications to be processed.

What are Country-Specific Columns in Visa Bulletin?

There are separate columns in the visa bulletin for the Philippines, India, China and Mexico. These countries have a great backlog and longer weight time. This means applicants from these countries have to overcome two caps – the country of origin cap burden & the family or employment law cap burden. The exception here is the F2A category where 75% of green card holders (and their family members) are exempt from this cap burden. Spouses [and unmarried minor children] from the above mentioned countries generally only have to wait a few extra weeks for their green cards. While other relatives from these countries may have to wait more than a decade.

Conclusion

Going through the process of applying for a Green Card can be long, stressful and confusing. This is also a life-changing event that can drastically change and improve your life. We are here to help you to learn more about what’s happening with green card backlogs, wait times and how to demystify visa bulletin releases. We kindly invite you to contact the PassRight team and get professional support so that you know step by step what is coming next and a visa bulletin is not a mystery to you anymore.

FAQs

  • Why is the visa bulletin required?

    The U.S. Department of State publishes visa bulletin on a monthly basis. The visa bulletin shows the applicants when they can claim their green card.
  • Who is excluded from the visa bulletin?

    Spouses of U.S. citizens can apply for a green card as soon as their I-130 petition is approved as there is no cap on the number of green cards available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, defined as spouses, parents, and unmarried minor children (under age 21).
  • Why does the F2A category move the fastest?

    Due to the largest quota at 87,934 green cards. In addition, majority of the green cards within the F2A category are exempt from the country cap.
  • Where to find the priority date?

    The priority date is in the top section of I-797 Notice of Action (I-130 Approval Notice) that was provided when the I-130 petition was approved.