What Is a Visa Bulletin?

A visa bulletin is a table that shows how long certain groups of people have waited to be approved for a visa. Visa bulletins can also be used to tell if you are eligible to apply for a visa. The U.S. government limits how many immigrants come into the country per year. This applies to both employer-sponsored and family sponsored applicants. These limitations create a backlog.

The Department of State (DOS) releases a visa bulletin every month. The main focus is to describe how many immigrant visas are available. Immigration is tightly regulated. The government caps the number of foreign nationals allowed in the country per year. Every immigrant who wants to live in the U.S. needs their own personal immigrant visa number.

Visas can be acquired at a U.S. Consulate if you live abroad or by filing an Adjustment of Status claim if you’re inside the United States.

Employment Categories

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) maintains a ranking of employment categories. A higher ranking means you get first consideration for visa approval. The five employment-based categories (EB) outlined by the USCIS are:

  • EB-1: Priority Workers

  • EB-2: Advanced Degree Professionals

  • EB-3: Professionals and Other Workers

  • EB-4: Religious Workers and Others

  • EB-5: Investors

Employment-based immigration is limited to 140,000 people a year. Also, only seven percent of visas go to citizens from one country. This means citizens from larger countries get the same number of visas as those from smaller countries. If you file a PERM or I-140 (Green Card) application, you get a priority date, which is the date your application is received.

If your priority date is before the date for your category on the visa bulletin, you can file to have your status adjusted.

Family Categories

Many immigrants are sponsored by family members who are U.S. citizens. Family immigration is limited to 500,000 people per year. However, there are no limits on immediate relatives (IR) like parents, spouses, and minor, unmarried children of U.S. citizens.

The USCIS also ranks family based categories (F). These include:

  • F-1: Unmarried Adult Children of US Citizens

  • F-2A: Spouses and Children of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs)

  • F-2B: Unmarried Adult Sons & Daughters of LPRs

  • F-3: Married Adult Children of US Citizens

  • F-4: Siblings of US Citizens

LPRs are green card holders. The priority date for a family based immigrant is the date their I-30 petition was received.

Types of Visa Bulletins

For each immigration category, there are two different bulletin types. The first is the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart. The second is the Application Final Action Dates chart. Compare your priority date to the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart when the USCIS has learned there are more available visas than applicants. Otherwise, use the Application Final Dates chart.

Immigrants with priority dates before the date on the chart can file for a status adjustment and earn residency.

Visa Limits and Restrictions

Immigration is limited by category. They are also limited by country of chargeability. This is usually the country where you were born. If you’re a family based immigrant filing form I-130, your immigration status is subject to a ‘preference’ category. They must wait until their category and country are available for new visa applications.

An F2A number with no per-country limit is available to any applicant whose priority date is before February 15, 2015. F2A numbers that do have a per-country limit are available to applicants with priority dates between February 15, 2015, and February 22, 2015. F2A numbers given to applicants from Mexico are not subject to a per-country limit.

The visa restrictions for the different preference categories are as follows:

  • First Preference (Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens): 23,400 and any other numbers not used for the fourth preference
  • Second Preference (Spouses, Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents): 114,200, any number above 226,000, and unused numbers
  • Third Preference (Skilled Workers, Professionals, Other Workers): 28.6 percent of the total demand worldwide and any numbers not used by first and second preference. Other Workers can receive no more than 10,000.
  • A. Spouse and Children: 77 percent of the second preference number. 75 percent are not subject to per-country limits.
  • B. Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 or older): 23 percent of the second preference limit
  • Third Preference (Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens): 23,400 and any numbers not used by the first two preferences
  • Fourth Preference (Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens): 65,00 and any not used by the preceding three preferences

Visas for family members are granted in the order they were filed. This is outlined in INA Section 203(e). Spouses and children receive the same status as preferred immigrants if they come in with the family member as outlined in Section 203(d). Section 202(e) outlines proration provisions for countries where the visa demand outstrips the visa availability. Currently, countries subject to this provision include mainland China, Mexico, Philippines, and India.

Using the Visa Bulletin

Using the monthly visa bulletin is very simple. All you need is the right information. First, decide whether you are employment based or family based. Next, check your category ranking. Finally, check the USCIS website for which chart you should use.

On the left side of the visa bulletin, you see a list of category rankings. On the top of the chart are immigrant groups. By cross-referencing your category ranking with your immigrant group and priority date, you can see if you’re eligible for a status adjustment.

For example, in the April 2017 Application Final Action Dates chart, EB2 Chinese immigrants have a backlog date of January 15, 2013. If your priority date is before this date, you can file for a status adjustment. If the date on a given chart says ‘current’, there is no backlog and you can file for a status adjustment regardless of your priority date.

A limited number of visas become available every year for those on waiting lists. Married sons and daughters of citizens, for example, receive 23,000 visas per year. When there are more applicants than visas, those who did not receive a visa go on a waiting list. Then they getg a priority date. This date gives them an estimate of when they may receive their visa.

Cut-off dates are adjusted each month by the United States Department of State, Visa Control and Reporting Division. These adjustments appear every month in the visa bulletin. The visa bulletin also provides current priority dates for visa applicants. A new bulletin is usually issued the second or third week of every month.

The visa bulletin sorts priority dates in a standard format. It includes three categories:

  1. Preference Allocation for Family-Sponsored Immigrants governed by INA Section 203(a)
  2. Preference Allocation for Work-Based Immigrants governed by INA Section 203(b)
  3. Diversity Immigrants subject to INA Section 203(c)

Tables for family based and employment based available visas appear every month in the visa bulletin. On these tables, you may see either the letters ‘C’ or ‘U’. C stands for current, which means visa numbers are available for eligible applicants. U stands for unavailable, meaning that no visa numbers are available. You can only get a visa number if your priority date is before the listed cutoff date.

April 2017 Employment-Based Bulletin

Application Final Action Dates

 

EB

 

World Applicants

 

China Mainland

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

 

India

 

Mexico

 

Philippines

1

Current

Current

Current

Current

Current

Current

2

Current

01/15/13

Current

06//22/08

Current

Current

3

02/15/17

08/15/14

02/15/17

03/24/05

02/15/17

09/15/12

Unskilled

02/15/17

03/01/06

02/15/17

03/24/05

02/15/17

09/15/12

4

Current

Current

07/15/15

Current

07/15/15

Current

5

Current

05/22/14

Current

Current

Current

Current

Dates for Filing Visa Applications

 

EB

 

World Applicants

 

China Mainland

 

India

 

Mexico

 

Philippines

1

Current

Current

Current

Current

Current

2

Current

03/01/13

04/22/09

Current

Current

3

Current

05/01/14

07/01/05

Current

09/01/13

Unskilled

Current

08/01//09

07/01/05

Current

09/01/03

4

Current

Current

Current

Current

Current

5

Current

06/15/14

Current

Current

Current

April 2017 Family Based Visa Bulletin

Application Final Action Dates

F  

World Applicants

 

China Mainland

 

India

 

Mexico

 

Philippines

1

10/15/10

10/15/10

10/15/10

05/22/95

01/15/06

2A

06/08/15

06/08/15

06/08/15

05/22/15

06/08/15

2B

09/15/10

09/15/10

09/15/10

12/22/95

06/15/06

3

05/15/05

05/15/05

05/15/05

01/08/05

09/15/94

4

05/08/04

05/08/04

08/15/03

06/15/97

09/08/93

Dates for Filing Visa Applications

F  

World Applicants

 

China Mainland

 

India

 

Mexico

 

Philippines

1

01/01/11

01/01/11

01/01/11

06/01/95

05/01/06

2A

11/22/15

11/22/15

11/22/15

11/22/15

11/22/15

2B

02/08/11

02/08/11

02/08/11

06/01/96

02/01/07

3

08/22/05

08/22/05

08/22/05

05/01/95

01/01/95

4

07/01/04

07/01/04

05/01/04

12/01/97

04/01/94

Anyone whose country is not listed by name should refer to the ‘World Applicants’ category. If you come across a visa bulletin that lists a date as "unavailable," this means permanent residency is not allowed for people in that category.

Changes From March to April

Visa bulletin dates can change from month to month. Categories with no backlog one month may very well have a backlog the next. Check the visa bulletin every month to make sure you get your status adjustment.

There were several EB changes, for example, from March to April.

  • EB2 China moved from December 15, 2012, to January 15, 2013.

  • EB2 India moved from June 1, 2008, to June 22, 2008.

  • EB3 China moved from March 15, 2014, to August 15, 2014.
  • EB3 India changed from March 22, 2005, to March 24, 2005.

  • EB3 Mexico moved two months from December 01, 2016, to February 15, 2017.

  • EB3 Philippines increased as well, from March 15, 2012, to September 15, 2012.

  • EB3 World Applicants experienced a minor adjustment from December 1, 2016, to February 15, 2017.

All of these changes happened on the EB Application Final Action Dates chart.

Other Information

In addition to visa wait times, visa bulletins contain a wealth of other information. For instance, these bulletins include diversity lottery approval statistics, immigration application dates from different countries, Diversity Immigrant Category cut-off data, and immigration application dates for different countries.

Certain countries are ‘Oversubscribed’. These are countries like China, India, Mexico and Philippines that have very long wait times because they have many more applicants than available visas. For this reason, these countries are listed separately in visa bulletins instead of being included in the world category.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is My Priority Date?

Your priority date will always be when the government received your application.

  • Can I Improve My Eligibility?

If you are an EB candidate, you can improve your chances by entering a specialty career or pursuing an advanced degree.

  • What Should I Do if My Priority Date Becomes Eligible?

File for an adjustment of status or attempt consular processing. Consular processing is obtaining a visa at a consulate or embassy.

  • What Do I Do if My Priority Date is After the Cut-Off Date?

Unfortunately, you will have to wait until the cut-off date for your category is past your priority date.

Get Help with a Visa Bulletin

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