What to Know About the U.S. Visa Bulletin

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Navigating the U.S. immigration system can be a challenging endeavor. One tool that helps both the government and aspiring immigrants manage the process is the Visa Bulletin. Please continue reading and reach out to a seasoned New York City immigration lawyer from the Lightman Law Firm for a breakdown of what it is, how it works, and what it means for you.

What is the Visa Bulletin?

The Visa Bulletin is essentially a tool used by the U.S. government to manage and track the allocation of green cards or immigrant visas annually. Given that there’s a cap on how many visas can be issued each year, both by country and category, the Visa Bulletin acts like a timetable, indicating when it’s your turn in line.

How to Use the Bulletin

If you’re at the cusp of the final stage in the green card process, the Visa Bulletin will be your guide. Depending on your location, you’ll either be:

  • Inside the U.S.: Here, you’d be looking to file a Form I-485 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • Outside the U.S.: Your journey involves consular processing via the Department of State (DOS).

The bulletin lists countries and visa categories (like F1 or EB2). To utilize it:

  • First, identify your Priority Date from your Form I-797 Approval Notice.
  • Navigate the bulletin to your Country of Birth section and locate your visa category.
  • If the date indicated is later than your priority date, it’s an indication that you may proceed with your application, based on either the Final Action or Dates for Filing charts.

Example: If your Priority Date falls on September 1, 2013, and you fall under the F1 category for India, and the Cutoff Date mentioned is December 1, 2014, then you’re cleared to advance your case.

Can You File Your Form I-485 Using the Dates for Filing Chart?

You can indeed, but with a caveat. If you’re seeking a green card within the U.S., approval to file is contingent upon both DOS (via the Visa Bulletin) and USCIS (via their Adjustment of Status Filing Chart). Only when both align, and your priority date is current, can you proceed with Form I-485.

The Special Case of the October Bulletin

Come October 1st, the U.S. government embarks on its new fiscal year. This particular bulletin often showcases a forward leap in visa numbers due to the DOS starting anew with its full visa allocation as mandated by the law. Typically, there are 140,000 employment-based and 226,000 family-based visas issued annually.

Changes in the Monthly Bulletin

The Visa Bulletin is updated monthly, and these updates may affect your case:

  • If your priority date is no longer “Current,” certain actions like green card approval or I-485 submissions become restricted.
  • If a backward movement (retrogression) happens in the bulletin, applications filed in a “Current” month can be halted in subsequent months until the date becomes current again.

Key Terms in the Visa Bulletin

Some of the key terms to be aware of and understand are as follows:

  • Priority Date: The date when an I-130 or I-140 Immigrant Petition is received by USCIS. If your I-140 is anchored on a labor certification (LC), then the LC filing date is the reference.
  • Cutoff Date: Dates shown in the Visa Bulletin charts. Dates beyond these are not “Current.”
  • Current: This means your priority date predates the cutoff date in the Visa Bulletin.
  • C: All Priority Dates are considered Current.
  • Dates for Filing Chart: This chart allows individuals with priority dates preceding the cutoff dates to compile and dispatch documents to DOS’s National Visa Center (NVC). This can also
  • determine green card filing with USCIS.
  • Final Actions Dates Chart: This denotes when a green card application can be filed or approved, either by USCIS or at a consulate.
  • Visa Retrogression: A scenario where a “Current” priority date in one month is no longer so in the following month.

For anyone on the journey of U.S. immigration, understanding the intricacies of the Visa Bulletin is crucial. If this process feels overwhelming, consider seeking guidance from an experienced immigration lawyer.