What Is the Visa Bulletin and Why Is It Important for Green Card Applications?
What is the Visa Bulletin?
Every month, the Department of State publishes the Visa Bulletin, which summarizes the availability of immigrant visa (green card) numbers and indicates when a green card has become available to an applicant based on their category, country of birth, and priority date. The priority date is the date either a labor certification or in some cases the I-140 petition was filed on behalf of the green card applicant. In the Employment-Based immigration system, Congress set a limit on the number of green cards that can be issued each year. That limit is currently 140,000. This means that in any given year, the maximum number of green cards that can be issued to employment-based applicants and their dependents is 140,000.
Those are divided among the 5 preference categories:
First: Priority Workers: 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, plus any numbers not required for fourth and fifth preferences.
Second: 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: 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: Certain Special Immigrants: 7.1% of the worldwide level.
Fifth: Employment Creation: 7.1% of the worldwide level.
In addition, “the total number of immigrant visas made available to natives of any single foreign state… in any fiscal year may not exceed seven percent… of the total number of such visas made available under such subsections in that fiscal year.” Accordingly, there is a 7% annual per-country limit.
The Department of State tracks the number of applicants waiting outside the U.S. for green cards in each category. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service tracks the number of applicants waiting inside the U.S. for green cards in each category. When there are more applicants than the number of green cards available for a category or country, the category is considered to be oversubscribed and a cut-off date must be implemented. The priority date of the first applicant who could not fit within the number of available green cards is set as the cut-off date. Applicants with a priority date on or after the cut-off date are not eligible to receive a green card and must wait until one becomes available in a following year. If green cards remain unused at the end of the year, they do not roll over into the following year. They are lost and cannot be used by future applicants.
Why Is the Visa Bulletin Important?
Applicants for employment-based green cards must check the visa bulletin every month to determine if there is an available green card. If one is available based on the applicant’s category (EB-1 through EB-5), country of birth, and priority date, then the applicant can file the final step of the green card process (either adjustment of status or the immigrant visa application for consular processing). If a green card is not available, the applicant must continue to wait to be able to file. For those inside the United States, they must continue to maintain their temporary work visa status the entire time they are waiting for a green card to become available. They must also continue to have a job offer from the company that sponsored the process under the same terms and conditions that were specified in the earlier phases of the application process. Due to the 7% per-country limit, applicants from some countries have an exceedingly long wait for a green card to become available (currently over 10 years for those born in India), while applicants from other countries may have no wait at all. The long wait for some countries creates difficulties for applicants in a nonimmigrant status that has a time limit.
Why Are There Two Charts in the Visa Bulletin?
The Department of State sets forth two different cut-off dates for each category, one in the Dates for Filing chart, and another in the Final Action Date chart. The Final Action Date chart is the one described above which confirms when a green card is available for a waiting applicant. The Dates for Filing chart is sometimes used to account for processing times. It allows applicants to file in advance of when a green card is actually available so that by the time the application has been reviewed and is ready to be approved, a green card will actually be available under that month’s Final Action Date chart. The Dates for Filing chart can be considered to be a prediction of the expected cut-off date in the Final Action Date chart for the last month of the year. In immigration terms, the year runs from October 1st to September 30th. The 140,000 green cards become available on October 1st of a given year. It is the job of the Department of State and USCIS to take in enough applications to use up all of those available green cards, without taking in more applicants that available green cards. When the government takes in too many applications and the green cards run out before the end of the year, the cut-off date can move backwards or become unavailable to prevent additional applications from being filed. Those application that were filed while green cards were available but could not be approved before they ran out, will remain pending until the Final Action Date moves beyond the applicant’s priority date again.
By: Emily Neumann
Emily Neumann is Managing Partner at Reddy & Neumann, P.C. with over 15 years of experience practicing US immigration law providing services to U.S. businesses and multinational corporations. Emily has helped transform the firm from a solo practice to Houston’s largest immigration law firm focused exclusively on U.S. employment-based immigration. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Central Michigan University and her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Houston Law Center. Emily has been quoted in Bloomberg Law, U.S. News & World Report, Inside Higher Ed, and The Times of India on various hot topics in immigration. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Society for Human Resource Management.
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