If you have been reading about the green card process, chances are that you heard about the Visa Bulletin. You may have tried to interpret them and maybe you are lost. If that is the case, you came to the right place. In this article, we will explain what is and how to read the Visa Bulletin in 2024. If you prefer, I have also made a video on this topic that I will leave below. Understanding the Visa Bulletin will help you estimating how long your green card journey will take.
What is the Visa Bulletin?
The visa Bulletin is a monthly publication released by USCIS and de Department of State (DOS). In this bulletin, the US government details when an applicant can file for an adjustment of status. This is necessary because there are only a certain number of available green cards every year. In addition, the US puts a limit on visas per country of origin.
A limited number of green cards are available each year
The United States grants a limited number of green cards each year. For example, 140,000 visas are available each year under the employment-based categories. These are the EB-1, EB-2, EB-2, EB-4, and EB-4 green cards.
The country of origin matters
In addition to a global limitation on the number of green cards, the US imposes a limit of 7% by country of origin. This is the reason why people from certain countries (notably India and China) typically wait longer for their permanent residency. Other countries with frequent backlogs under certain visa categories are Mexico and the Philippines.
Where to find the Visa Bulletin
When it comes to immigration, you should always seek official information. To find the official US Visa Bulletins, follow this link. Alternatively, you may just type “visa bulletin” on Google or your search engine of choice. Then, find the .gov website with the Visa Bulletin title. Official US Government websites always end with a .gov domain.
Once you access the Visa Bulletin website, you may see a link to the current month’s bulletin, and perhaps the following month is already available. The US government releases the publication for the following month early so you can anticipate what is going to happen then. If you scroll down, you will also find a comprehensive repository of historical Visa Bulletins.
How to read the Visa Bulletin
Click on the Visa Bulletin you want to read and it will open on a new page. In the first section, you will find an introduction entitled “Statutory numbers”, where you can read more about the number of visas available each year and how the US government determines dates.
EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) is part of the employment-based category of green cards. Specifically, it is the second preference employment-based category (EB-2). To check the dates for EB-2 navigate the section titled “EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCES”.
What table to check: Final actions dates vs Dates for Filing
There are two tables with dates. The first one is under sub-section A, “Final action dates for employment-based preference cases”. This table should be used for those petitioners that are already inside the United States, unless the visa bulletin for this month says otherwise. For example, if a petitioner currently holds an F-1 visa as a student. Or a person that is working in the US on an H-1B visa. These are people that will need to do an adjustment of status once their I-140 is approved.
On the other hand, if an applicant is outside the United States, they will look for Table B (Dates for filing of employment-based visa applications). For example, if a person applies for EB-2 NIW from their country of residence. In these cases, the second part of the green card process is not called adjustment of status, but consular processing. Once their I-140 is approved they will need to go to a consulate to finish the process there.
What does the date in the Visa Bulletin table mean?
Once you determine what table to check (Final action dates or Dates for Filing), you will need to locate your visa category. For EB-2 NIW the correct row to look at is the row for 2nd Employment-based. Next, determine which column you need to select. For most countries, the column to read is “All chargeability areas except those listed”. However, if you were born in a country listed in the other columns you will need to use that one.
Once you identify the row and column, read the date on that particular cell. The letter “C” means “current”. In other words, you can apply for an adjustment of status (I-485) immediately once you get your I-140 approval. It also means that you can file your I-140 and I-485 at the same time if you wish to do so.
However, if there is a date listed, you will need to wait until your Priority Date is the same or earlier than the date shown on the Visa Bulletin.
Remember that you only have one year to file for an adjustment of status once you have your I-140 approval after your date is current on the Visa Bulletin.
How to check for your priority date
Knowing your priority date is easy. For EB-2 NIW it is typically a date close to when you submitted your I-140 to USCIS. To know the exact date, find the I-797 form (“Notice of action”) you received from USCIS. The priority date is clearly written on this form, as the image below shows.
Visa retrogression: a backward movement in dates that can surprise you
Usually, it would be expected that each new Visa Bulletin contained later priority dates. In other words, it is rational to think that each month more people could apply for an adjustment of status. Unfortunately, there are moments when a new Visa Bulletin shows earlier priority dates for certain categories or countries of origin. This is called visa retrogression. Check out this specific blog post if you want to learn everything about retrogression.
It happens when there are more applicants than visas available. This is the reason why you may want to file your adjustment of status (I-485) as soon as the Visa Bulletin indicates you can do so. That way, you may avoid a surprise retrogression in the next bulletin.
In this article, you learned where to find and how to read the Visa Bulletin. This is an important tool to anticipate how long the whole green card process will take you. If the bulletin shows your category and country of origin are current, you may want to hurry up and file your petition before things change.