Understanding the Visa Bulletin
Every month the Department of State publishes the Visa Bulletin – a bulletin that explains which types of green card application can be submitted to USCIS based on when the applicant filed their I-130 petition form. This bulletin is used to determine when green card applicants are able to move forward out of the USCIS backlog based on the availability of green card classes they are applying for, and can be thought of as a queue or line. You wait your turn for your green card application to be current, and when it is, you move forward.
The reason there is a backlog and need for a visa bulletin is because Congress allocates a limited amount of green cards issued on an annual basis. Currently, 366,000 green cards are allocated on an annual basis, and this number is split between a number of different categories we will expand upon below.
But out of that amount, the two areas where the most amount of green cards are allocated are for family-based (and also marriage-based) green cards (226,000 annually) and employment-based green cards (140,000 annually). Congress additionally allocated 50,000 green cards on an annual basis through the Diversity Visa Lottery – a lottery program that grants green cards to 50,000 foreign nationals from countries with low numbers of immigrants to the U.S. in the past five years.
Congress additionally allocates green cards based on country of origin. A country cap limits the percentage of green cards approved for any given country of origin, meaning that no one country can account for more than 7% of the total amount of green cards that are approved for that visa category.
This is why wait times can wildly differ depending on an applicant’s country of origin. The demand for U.S. green cards by foreign nationals of other countries varies. Countries with a higher demand translates to a longer wait time. Currently, foreign nationals from China and India usually have to wait the longest in order for their turn to become active given the sheer volume of applications being submitted from nationals of these countries.
Checking the monthly visa bulletin is essential for hopeful applicants who have been waiting for their desired green card to become eligible. This eligibility depends on a number of factors, including visa type, country from which applicants are traveling from, as well as the overall rate at which USCIS processes these applications. Wait times for your specific green card application to become current can wildly differ depending on these factors, as well as the U.S. administration that is in office.
Throughout the Trump administration, visa and green card processing times slowed. In line with President Trump’s expressed goals of slowing down legal immigration, USCIS increased Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and outright denials, both factors that contributed to a slowdown in visa processing. In some cases, wait times for eligibility to become current increased dramatically, and for applicants coming from certain countries, this wait became painstakingly numbing.
Given the expressed goals of President Biden, as well as the shifting priorities in immigration policies, many are watching these processing times to see how they might change under the new administration. President Biden has repeatedly stated the economic and societal importance of bringing foreign nationals into the United States. Given these public statements, staying on top of the visa bulletin is more important now than ever if you are an applicant waiting for your petition to become current.
How To Understand the Visa Bulletin
The monthly visa bulletin provides processing times for a variety of green card types and visa applications. For those who have submitted their I-130 form and are awaiting further news, you may already be familiar with what these various visa and green card types mean and who they apply to. But for those who are thinking about submitting their I-130 form for the first time, it may help you to understand what these various types are and benefit from them.
Understanding Visa Bulletin Terminology
When checking the monthly visa bulletin, there will be a number of terms used to describe which classes are current.
Priority Date: The date that you submit your I-130 petition is considered your “priority date.” This date is basically your spot in line. When your priority date is listed in the visa bulletin for the classification you have applied for, you are then able to move forward with your application.
Current: Any time that “current” or “C” is listed in the visa bulletin, it means that there is no current backlog or wait time for the green card class it applies to. Meaning that if you submit your I-130 petition then, you do not need to wait to move forward. When your priority date is listen in the visa bulletin, your date is considered “current.”
Chargeability Area: This correlates to the country of birth of the green card applicant. If and when you obtain your green card, it will be counted with number of green cards allocated to your particular country of origin.
Cutoff Date: This date serves as a limit to your current status. Meaning that once your I-130 petition becomes current, you must move forward by your cutoff date before you lose your spot in line. Applicants whose priority dates occur after the cut-off date must continue waiting for their status to become current.
Retrogression: In the case that USCIS receives a high volume of applications in a given month, more than expected by the State Department, cut-off dates for these months might move backwards instead of forwards. This is known as retrogression. As the demand for certain visa classifications increases, which most commonly occurs in September during the end of the fiscal year, these cut off dates reflect the processing time it takes for USCIS to cover these applications.
Oftentimes the visa bulletin will alert applicants of an expected retrogression in order to help green card applicants prepare for this delay. However, as previously stated, retrogression can occur quite unexpectedly, which further underlines the importance of being organized and ready for your priority date to become current.
Missing your window to obtain a green card when your priority date becomes current could come with consequences. If you fail to file when current, unexpected retrogression the next month could make it even harder for you to obtain your green card.
Family Sponsored Preferences
Family-sponsorship based preferences refers to green card options reserved for certain family members of U.S. based individuals. If a foreign national has a qualifying relationship with a family member who is a citizen or permanent resident in the United States, they may submit an application for these green card preferences, which include:
First Preference: (F1) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.
Second Preference: Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents: 114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused first preference numbers:
A. (F2A) Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit;
B. (F2B) Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents: 23% of the overall second preference limitation.
Third Preference: (F3) Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.
Fourth Preference: (F4) Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens: 65,000, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences.
The June 2021 Visa Bulletin reflects wait times for these preferences based on countries of origin. Here is an outline for Final Action Dates for Family-Sponsored Preference Cases.
FINAL ACTION DATES FOR FAMILY-SPONSORED PREFERENCE CASES – June 2021
Per USCIS: “On the chart below, the listing of a date for any class indicates that the class is oversubscribed (see paragraph 1); “C” means current, i.e., numbers are authorized for issuance to all qualified applicants; and “U” means unauthorized, i.e., numbers are not authorized for issuance. (NOTE: Numbers are authorized for issuance only for applicants whose priority date is earlier than the final action date listed below.)”
|Family-Sponsored||All Chargeability Areas ExceptThose Listed||CHINA-mainland born||INDIA||MEXICO||PHILIPPINES|
DATES FOR FILING FAMILY-SPONSORED VISA APPLICATIONS – June 2021
Per USCIS: “The chart below reflects dates for filing visa applications within a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process. Applicants for immigrant visas who have a priority date earlier than the application date in the chart below may assemble and submit required documents to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, following receipt of notification from the National Visa Center containing detailed instructions. The application date for an oversubscribed category is the priority date of the first applicant who cannot submit documentation to the National Visa Center for an immigrant visa. If a category is designated “current,” all applicants in the relevant category may file applications, regardless of priority date.
The “C” listing indicates that the category is current, and that applications may be filed regardless of the applicant’s priority date. The listing of a date for any category indicates that only applicants with a priority date which is earlier than the listed date may file their application.”
|Family-Sponsored||All Chargeability Areas ExceptThose Listed||CHINA-mainland born||INDIA||MEXICO||PHILIPPINES|
So looking at the June 2021 visa table above – what do these dates mean? Each date corresponds to the time that the applicant submitted their I-130 petition. Meaning that, for instance, if you are an Indian national and you submitted your I-130 for the First Preference on March 1st, 2016, your status would now be considered current, and you can move forward with the rest of your petition.
Applicants applying from mainland China, India, Mexico, or the Philippines can expect to have longer wait times. due to the sheer volume of applicants coming from these areas. If you are applying from other areas not specified here, pay close attention to this “All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed” column – as these dates will apply to you.
Employment-based green card sponsorship is another popular route which allows for green card applicants to apply for a green card with sponsorship from a U.S. based company or institution. There are a number of different employment-based green card classifications, including:
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, of which not more than 10,000 may be provided to “*Other Workers”.
Fourth: Certain Special Immigrants: 7.1% of the worldwide level.
Fifth: Employment Creation: 7.1% of the worldwide level, not less than 3,000 of which are reserved for investors in a targeted rural or high-unemployment area, and 3,000 are set aside for investors in regional centers by Sec. 610 of Pub. L. 102-395.
Per USCIS: On the chart below, the listing of a date for any class indicates that the class is oversubscribed (see paragraph 1); “C” means current, i.e., numbers are authorized for issuance to all qualified applicants; and “U” means unauthorized, i.e., numbers are not authorized for issuance. (NOTE: Numbers are authorized for issuance only for applicants whose priority date is earlier than the final action date listed below.)
|Employment-based||All Chargeability Areas ExceptThose Listed||CHINA-mainland born||EL SALVADORGUATEMALAHONDURAS||INDIA||MEXICO||PHILIPPINES||VIETNAM|
|Certain Religious Workers||C||C||01NOV18||C||01NOV19||C||C|
|5th Non-Regional Center(C5 and T5)||C||15SEP15||C||C||C||C||15APR18|
|5th Regional Center(I5 and R5)||C||15SEP15||C||C||C||C||15APR18|
Per USCIS: “The chart below reflects dates for filing visa applications within a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process. Applicants for immigrant visas who have a priority date earlier than the application date in the chart may assemble and submit required documents to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, following receipt of notification from the National Visa Center containing detailed instructions. The application date for an oversubscribed category is the priority date of the first applicant who cannot submit documentation to the National Visa Center for an immigrant visa. If a category is designated “current,” all applicants in the relevant category may file, regardless of priority date.”
|Employment-based||All ChargeabilityAreas ExceptThose Listed||CHINA-mainland born||EL SALVADORGUATEMALAHONDURAS||INDIA||MEXICO||PHILIPPINES|
|Certain Religious Workers||C||C||01JAN19||C||C||C|
|5th Non-Regional Center(C5 and T5)||C||15DEC15||C||C||C||C|
|5th Regional Center(I5 and R5)||C||15DEC15||C||C||C||C|
So what do these dates mean? If you are applying for the first preference category from mainland China, your status is current. Meaning that once you submit your I-130 petition, you are able to move ahead with the rest of your application. If you are from Honduras or El Salvador and are applying for the 4th employment preference category, you must have submitted your I-130 petition on January 1st, 2019 to move forward with the rest of your application.
These priority dates correspond to the volume of applications USCIS receives from these countries, and the amount of green cards that are budgeted per country by the U.S. government.
What is First Preference?
There are three categories within this first preference (also known as EB-1) that foreign nationals can apply for when submitting a green card application. These categories include Extraordinary Ability Green Card, Outstanding Professors and Researchers Green Card, and Certain Multinational Manager or Executives Green Card.
The Extraordinary Abilities Green Card is reserved for foreign nationals who can demonstrate they possess extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics through sustained national or international acclaim. Applicants must prove 3 of 10 qualifying criteria, or provide evidence of a one-time achievement (i.e., Pulitzer, Oscar, Olympic Medal).
The Outstanding Professors and Researchers Green Card is reserved for foreign nationals who are able to demonstrate international recognition for outstanding achievements in a particular academic field. Applicants must have at least 3 years experience in teaching or research in that academic area, and must be entering the United States in order to pursue tenure or tenure track teaching or a comparable research position at a university, institution of higher education, or private employer. Applicants must meet 2 of 6 qualifying criteria and provide an offer of unemployment from their prospective U.S. employer.
The Certain Multinational Manager or Executives Green Card is reserved for foreign nationals who maintain that specific job title, and t have been employed outside the United States for at least 1 year in the 3 years preceding the petition or the most recent lawful nonimmigrant admission if already working for the U.S. petitioning employer. The petitioner must have already done at least 1 year of business prior, and the applicant must have a qualifying relationship with the entity outside of the United States.
Each of these categories have different requirements, and applicants should be aware of what evidence will satisfy these requirements prior to starting the green card process.
What is Second Preference?
Foreign nationals who are a member of a specific profession who holds an advanced degree or equivalent degree, or individuals with exceptional abilities may qualify for the below categories within the second preference (EB-2):
Advanced Degree Green Card: Foreign nationals must possess an advanced degree or a degree that is a foreign equivalent (a baccalaureate or foreign equivalent degree plus 5 years of post-baccalaureate, progressive work experience in the field). Applicants must provide documentation of this degree, as well as letters from current or former employers that show the applicant has at least 5 years of progressive post-baccalaureate work experience within this specialty.
Exceptional Ability Green Card: Different from an Extraordinary Abilities Green Card, a foreign national must show exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business. Exceptional ability “means a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business.” You must meet any requirements specified on the labor certification as applicable, and satisfy three of seven criteria.
National Interest Waiver (NIW): Foreign nationals who seek a national interest waiver can potentially have a Labor Certification be waived if their admission to the U.S. is in the national interest of the country. Professions that qualify for a waiver are not defined by statute, but are in most cases granted to those who have exceptional ability and whose “employment in the United States would greatly benefit the nation.” It is best to discuss with an attorney which sort of professions would best qualify for a waiver under the second preference.
What Is Third Preference?
Third Preference applies to Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers.
Skilled Workers Green Card: Foreign nationals must demonstrate that they have at least 2 years of job experience, education, and training to meet the requirements specified in the labor-certification. Applicants must also be performing work for which qualified workers are not available in the United States, and also have a labor certification and a permanent, full-time job offer.
Professionals Green Card: Applicants must demonstrate possession of a U.S> baccalaureate or foreign equivalent degree, and that the degree is a normal requirement for the desired occupation. Applicants must also be performing work that qualified workers are not available for in the U.S., and must meet other requirements that are specified on the labor certification.
What is Fourth Preference?
The fourth preference is reserved for “special immigrants” who may be eligible for permanent residency through specific visa categories detailed in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). To be considered a “special immigrant” you must be a:
- Religious worker;
- Panama Canal Company Employee, Canal Zone Government Employee, or U.S. Government in the Canal Zone Employee;
- G-4 International Organization Employee or Family Member or NATO-6 employee or family member;
- Afghanistan or Iraq national who worked with the U.S. armed forces as a translator;
- Iraq national who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq; or
- Afghanistan national who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government or the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan;
In order to apply for the fourth preference, your employer must file the Form I-360, pay any applicable filing fees, and provide evidence and supporting documentation that confirms your status.
What is Fifth Preference?
The Fifth Preference is widely recognized as the “investor green card” and is reserved to investors who make a necessary investment in a U.S. commercial enterprise, and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
There are a number of factors to consider when applying for the EB-5 green card, including the investment level a foreign national reaches. The standard minimum investment amount that a foreign investor has to make is $1.8 million, or if investing in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), the minimum investment is $900,000.
Foreign investors who are curious about the EB-5 program, or are interested in starting their process should consult with an attorney to understand the totality of these requirements.