[Updated Nov. 1, 2016 to include “Dates for Filing” charts]
The Visa Bulletin ExplainedWhenever I begin a new topic in my immigration law class, we first cover the “vocabulary”, usually proclaiming, “You can not discuss a subject if you do not know the language”.
Visa Bulletin. If you are the beneficiary of an immigrant petition (other than the spouse, parent or child of an US Citizen), you probably already know about the Visa Bulletin (VB). The VB is published monthly by the Department of State (DOS) to informs us of which immigrant visas will be available during the following month. For example, the VB published around May 9th will show visa availability for the month of May. Remember, the dates listed in the VB only apply to the month indicated on that issue. Current and past Visa Bulletins can be found here.
Immigrant Categories. Different immigrants are assigned different categories. The number of visas available for each category are set by law and only Congress can change the mathematical formula.
Family 1st (FB1) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of US Citizens.
Family 2nd (FB2A) Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents.
Family 2nd (FB2B) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent.
Family 3rd (FB3) Married Sons and Daughters of US Citizens.
Family 4th (FB4) Brothers and Sisters of Adult US Citizens.
Employment 1st (EB1) Priority Workers.
Employment 2nd (EB2) Professionals with Advanced Degrees & Exceptional Ability workers.
Employment 3rd (EB3) Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers.
Employment 4th (EB4) Certain Special Immigrants.
Employment 5th (EB5) Immigrant Investors.
[Note: The Visa Bulletin DOES NOT APPLY to the Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens (parent, spouse or unmarried child under 21). For the Immediate Relative category, a visa is always available.]
Priority Date. This is the date a petition or application is received by USCIS or, in some cases, the Department of Labor. Your Priority Date is your absolute place in line for an immigrant visa. The date your petition is approved has no effect on your Priority Date, which is why it does not matter if USCIS takes five days or five years to approve, for example, an FB4 petition. The wait for an FB4 immigrant visa is well over 10 years, and the day the petition is filed creates your Priority Date and your place in line for an immigrant visa.
Cutoff Date. These are the dates in the Visa Bulletin shown for each immigrant visa category. Once your Priority Date is earlier than the Cutoff Date, your priority date is now “current” and an immigrant visa is available for you. If your Priority Date is the same (a common mistake) or later than the Cutoff Date, keep waiting.
“C”. When the Cutoff Date is replaced by the letter “C”, all Priority Dates are current and visas are available for every Priority Dates in that category.
“U”. Likewise, when the Cutoff Date is replaced by the letter “U”, no visas are available in that category regardless of the Priority Date.
Country of Chargeability. Along with a Congressionally established limit on how many visas are available for each category, there is also a limit on how many visas in each category that can be issued to any one country. This limit is called the “per-country limit”. The country your visa is counted against, or ‘charged’ to, is your Country of Chargeability. This is important because for some countries, including the Philippines, the number of persons waiting for visas exceeds the annual per-country limits, creating a longer wait for visas then most other countries.
Your Country of Chargeability is determined by your place of birth, not your place of residence or citizenship. In some special situations, you can use the Country of Chargeability of your spouse or parent, if different from your own, usually benefiting you with a shorter wait. In even more rare cases, double cross-chargeability is possible; simultaneously taking the Priority Date from the direct petition beneficiary and the Country of Chargeability from the dependent spouse.
“All Chargeability Areas Except...”. On the Visa Bulletin, this is all Countries of Chargeability other than those four or five where demand for visas have exceeded the per-county limits. Currently, only China, India, Mexico and the Philippines have their own cutoff dates because of the per-country limits. The Dominican Republic also occasionally makes this list. All other countries fall under the “All Chargeability Areas Except...”.
Retrogression, also sometimes referred to as Regression. There are times with the Department of State realizes that they have advanced the cutoff dates too far and are receiving more visa applications than there will be visas available. When this occurs, DOS backs up the cutoff date, moving it further back in time in order to slow the number of visa applicants. Sometimes the cutoff date will retrogress a few months or years, and sometimes they just make that category Unavailable.
The Charts in the Visa Bulletin
Before October, 2015, the Visa Bulletin contained only two main charts: Family-Sponsored Preferences and Employment-Based Preferences. These charts listed the Cutoff Dates in each preference category. Remember, if your Priority Date is earlier than the Cutoff Date shown in your category, you may now be granted an immigrant visa or apply for Permanent Residence.
The Visa Bulletin now contains four charts:
#1 Family-Sponsored Preferences “Final Action Date” Chart
#2 Family-Sponsored Preferences “Dates for Filing” Chart
#3 Employment-Based Preferences “Final Action Date” Chart
#4 Employment-Based Preferences “Dates for Filing” Chart
The Two “Final Action Date” Charts
“Final Action Date” is just a new name for the old charts that have always been in the Visa Bulletin. With one “Final Action Date” chart for Family and the other for Employment, these charts continue to serve the Visa Bulletin’s main function of informing both the government and the public of when an immigrant visa can be issued. When a person’s Priority Date is earlier than the Cutoff Date shown in their particular category and country, an immigrant visa is now available. Anyone who will be applying for their visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate will require a current Priority Date on the “Final Action Date” Chart before a visa will be issued.
The Two “Dates for Filing” Charts
The “Dates for Filing” charts are causing confusion. There are three points to remember when looking at the “Dates for Filing” charts.
First, this chart is ONLY for people applying for Permanent Residence with USCIS while in the United States. Applicants obtaining their Immigrant Visa outside of the U.S. should completely ignore the Dates For Filing chart!
Second, there are some months each year when the “Dates for Filing” charts cannot be used.
And third, whenever the “Dates for Filing” charts are not to be used, the “Final Action Date” charts must be followed.
The “Dates for Filing” ChartsThe original purpose of the “Dates for Filing” chart was to give people applying for Permanent Residence while in the United States the opportunity to file their application before their Priority Date is current on the “Final Action Date” chart. Hence the name, “Dates for Filing”. By filing early – before a Priority Date is current – a person can obtain work authorization and sometimes travel authorization while they are technically still “in line” waiting for their turn to become Permanent Residents.
Before each month’s Visa Bulletin goes into effect, USCIS will decide if people can use the “Dates for Filing” chart, or if they must use the “Final Action Date” chart. However, their decision is nowhere to be found in the monthly Visa Bulletin. Instead, you must go to the USCIS websitefor their monthly update of which chart can be used to file for Permanent Residence.
For example, look at 2016. From January to April, USCIS allowed people to file for Permanent Residence using the Family-Sponsored “Dates for Filing” chart, but not the Employment-Based “Dates for Filing” chart. From May to September, the use of either “Dates for Filing” chart was forbidden. But then for October and November, both “Dates for Filing” charts could be used when filing for Permanent Residence.
Remember, if USCIS does not allow a “Dates for Filing” chart to be used, you must instead use the “Final Action Date” chart.
Also remember that if you file for Application for Permanent Residence in a month when your Priority Date is not current on the appropriate chart for that month, you risk having your case denied and you wasted the filing fees you paid.
Example: Using the “Final Action Date” ChartPut all of this to practice by using the “Final Action Date” chart below from the November 2016 Visa Bulletin. Consider an FB-3 beneficiary (married son or daughter of a U.S. Citizen) from the Philippines with a Priority Date of March 1, 1999. First, locate the cutoff date for FB-3 under ‘Philippines”, and you will find the date of August 8, 1994. This date tells us that the government is able to grant visas to persons with a Priority Date before August 8, 1994, four and one-half years earlier than our beneficiary’s Priority Date of March 1, 1999.
Final Action Date - Philippines
22 OCT 09
22 JAN 15
15 APR 10
22 JAN 05
01 AUG 03
01 SEP 05
22 JAN 15
15 FEB 06
08 AUG 94
08 MAY 93
Saying that there is still a four and one-half year wait would be incorrect. No one know can predict with any level of certainty how long the wait will be before the Priority Date is current. Visa allocation follows a complex mathematical formula that can be modified by Congress at any time, plus the Department of State does not know how many people are actually waiting for a visa in this category. An accurate legal advisor say (and accuracy is vital in immigration law) that ahead of you in line are all the petitions filed in the four and one-half years between August 8, 1994, and March 1, 1999, plus their spouses and maybe some children, and the wait for your immigrant visa may be more or less than that four and one-half years.
Example: Using the “Dates for Filing” Chart
Let us use the example of a Filipino teacher in the United States with an Employment-Based 3rd Preference (EB-3) priority date of October 1, 2011. Since the teacher is lawfully in the United States and is eligible for Permanent Residence, he will apply for Residence with USCIS instead of applying for his Immigrant Visa through the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
The first step is to compare his Priority Date to the cutoff dates on both the “Final Action Date” and the “Dates for Filing” charts. The teacher’s Priority Date is October 1, 2011. The ‘Final Action’ cutoff date is April 1, 2011. Since the cutoff date is earlier than the Priority Date, no immigrant visa is available yet for this teacher. There are still six months worth of petitions that must be worked before it is this teacher’s place in line for his Immigrant Visa.
The result is different when looking at the November “Dates for Filing” chart. The EB-3 cutoff date is September 1, 2013, almost two years ahead of the Priority Date! A quick check with USCIS [https://www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo]shows that the November, 2016, Employment-Based “Dates for Filing” chart can be used to file for Permanent Residence during the month of November.
Result- Although no immigrant visa is yet available according to the “Final Action Date” chart, this teacher can now file his Application for Permanent Residence.
For a more detailed discussion of using the Dates for Filing” charts, see the Q & A section of the blog post titled, “Early Adjustment Filing Fast Facts – October Visa Bulletin”.
(For my law students who read this, yes, Final Action Dates will always be on the final.)
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