What is the U.S. Visa Bulletin?
The U.S. Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication issued by the U.S. Department of State that provides information on the availability of immigrant visa numbers.
The U.S. Congress places a limit on the number of employment-based immigrants who are admitted to the U.S. annually to 140,000 persons per year.
The allocation of employment-based immigrant visas depends on 3 factors:
- Annual numerical limitations
- Country of applicant’s birth
- Priority date
Who is subject to the U.S. Visa Bulletin’s numerical limitations?
A cap is imposed on each of the 5 employment-based preference categories:
- EB-1 – Extraordinary Ability (including EB-1A, EB-1B, EB-1C)
- EB-2 – Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability (including EB-2 National Interest Waiver)
- EB-3 – Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers
- EB-4 – Special Immigrants
- EB-5 – Immigrant Investors
There are slight variations in the number of visas available each year.
Because of this numerical cap, there are long waiting periods to obtain a visa or apply for adjustment of status in most of the employment-based immigrant preference categories.
To determine the waiting period of an employment-based category, you must review the most recent Visa Bulletin that gets updated every month.
To read the Visa Bulletin you must understand the following terms:
- Priority date – employment-based immigrant visas are distributed on a chronological basis, determined by the date PERM Labor Certification and/or Form I-140 was properly filed with U.S. Department of Labor and/or USCIS. This filing date becomes the so-called “priority date”. The Form I-140 is properly filed only after USCIS issues an official receipt known as Form I-797C, Notice of Action.
- “Current” date – if the priority date becomes “current”, it means that applications filed before that date are not subject to further wait. If the priority date is current, the beneficiary of an employment-based petition can apply for an immigrant visa (if abroad) or adjustment of status (if in the US in lawful nonimmigrant status).
Life changes such as an applicant’s marriage, divorce, or change of employment can impact the applicant’s waiting time.
Important rules to remember when determining the applicant’s priority date:
- Transfers: employment-based priority dates in EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 categories are retained and transferable among these categories and within the same category when Form I-140 is approved.
- Earliest priority date: the beneficiary of multiple employment-based immigrant petitions is entitled to the earliest priority date.
- Form I-140 withdrawal: USCIS permits the applicant to retain the priority date of Form I-140 petition even if it’s withdrawn later by the employer or the sponsoring company ceases to exist.
- Cross-chargeability: applicant can choose a country other than the applicant’s country of birth (see below).
How to determine if you can submit an Adjustment of Status application in the U.S.
If you are physically present in the U.S., eligible for Adjustment of Status and will be applying for permanent residency in the U.S., take the following steps:
- Visit USCIS website: Adjustment of Status Filing Charts from the Visa Bulletin
- Find USCIS (current month’s) Adjustment of Status Filing Charts
- Scroll down to the “Dates for Filing for Employment-Based Adjustment of Status Applications”
- Find your category
- Find your country of birth
- If the date on the chart is current (“C”), you may file Forms I-485, I-765 and I-131
- If your priority date is earlier than the date listed on the chart, you may file Forms I-485, I-765 and I-131
- If your priority date is later than the date listed on the chart, you cannot apply for permanent residency and need to wait until your priority date becomes available.
How to determine if you can apply for an immigrant visa outside the U.S.
If you are located outside the U.S. and want to apply for immigrant visa, take the following steps:
- Visit the U.S. Visa Bulletin website.
- Open the current month’s chart.
- Scroll down to the Employment-Based Preferences.
- There, you will see 2 charts:
- Final Action Dates for Employment-Based Preference Cases – dates when immigrant visas may finally be issued, and
- Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications – earliest dates when applicants may be able to submit their immigrant visa applications.
- Final Action Dates For Employment-Based Preference Cases
To determine if your priority date is current you need to compare the priority date against the date indicated in the section, Application Final Action Dates, in the most recent monthly Visa Bulletin, taking into consideration the preference category and your country of birth.
The priority date must be before the date listed under Chart A, Application Final Action Dates, to be considered current.
- For example, an applicant who was born in India has PERM Labor Certification and Form I-140 filed on his behalf by his US employer. The applicant is being sponsored as a professional holding an advanced degree (EB-2). The applicant will look at the most recent Visa Bulletin for that preference category (EB-2) under the column for India. In November 2023, the date on the Visa Bulletin (Chart A) for that category and nationality was January 01, 2012. Only applicants whose PERM Labor Certification was filed before January 01, 2012 are considered current. If the applicant’s priority date is current his/her immigrant visa can be issued.
- Dates For Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications
A separate chart B called Dates For Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications indicates when an applicant may submit an adjustment of status application (if in the US) or the National Visa Center (NVC) can start the immigrant visa application process (Consular Processing).
- For example, in November 2023, the date on the Visa Bulletin (Chart B) for EB-2 category and country of India was May 15, 2012. The same Indian applicant in the example above could start filing their immigrant visa application after receiving a notice from NVC.
What is Cross-Chargeability and How to Use it to Shorten the Wait Time
Country of Chargeability:
Normally, the country of chargeability is determined by the applicant’s country of birth.
This means that if the applicant was born in a country with a high demand for visas (for example, India, Mexico, China, Philippines), they may face longer waiting periods to receive a visa number.
Applicants born in India, China, Mexico and the Philippines are subject to lengthy backlogs (up to 11 years for some applicants).
Cross-chargeability allows beneficiaries to use the priority date of their spouse or parent if it benefits their immigration case.
If the spouse or parent was born in a country with a shorter visa backlog or no backlog, it can significantly expedite the beneficiary’s visa processing.
- For example, an applicant who was born in India and who is married to a person born in Indonesia, can use the priority dates for Indonesia.
- For example, a child who was born in India has a mother who was born in South Africa. The child may be charged to the mother’s country of birth if the visa is not immediately available to applicants born in India.