Navigating the Visa Bulletin

At first glance the Visa Bulletin can be overwhelming and intimidating. It is issued every month by the Department of State. It shows which green card applications can move forward based on when the I-140 petition that starts the green card process was originally filed. Additionally, it estimates how long it will take before an applicant will be able to obtain his or her green card based on how quickly the “line” is moving now. Once the I-140 petition has been filed, the applicant will be able to check the Visa Bulletin and watch his or her place in line move forward.

There are currently 366,000 green cards available annually. Specifically, the employment-based green cards are allotted 140,000 that are split between five preference categories. The third preference category (EB-3) is allotted no more than 30,000 green cards. The U.S. Congress has placed annual country caps on each preference category; no single country of origin can account for more than 7% of the green cards in any particular preference category.

Under the employment-based section of the visa bulletin, there are two charts. Here are some key points on understanding how to select which chart to focus on.

Chart A. Final Action Dates for Employment-Based Preference Categories

  • Most Important chart for applicants who are outside the United States, the process known as “consular processing.”
  • The “final action dates” chart shows which priority dates have reached the front of the line. These green card applications are ready for approval right now.
  • Allows an applicant to get an early start on compiling and submitting all the required documents to the National Visa Center (NVC).
  • This gets the ball rolling and confirms that the NVC has everything ready once your priority date appears in the “final action dates” chart and a green card is available to you.

Chart B. Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications

  • The “dates for filing” chart show which green card applicants who are living outside of the United States should go ahead and submit their application with the National Visa Center (NVC)—even though a green card is not ready just yet.
  • This chart is primarily aimed at applicants who will be applying for a green card from outside the United States, but USCIS publishes a page called “when to file your adjustment of status application” every month that indicates whether green card applicants living in the United States can submit their green card application based on the visa bulletin’s “dates for filing” chart or whether they need to wait to meet the dates in the “final action dates” chart.
  • For green card applicants living in the United States, the “dates for filing” chart opens the door to additional benefits. When filing a green card application with USCIS, what is known as an I-485 form for “adjustment of status,” you can simultaneously apply for a work permit (employment authorization document) and travel permit (advance parole document). For applicants who plan to work in the United States or travel outside the United States while waiting for their green card applications to be processed, these additional benefits can be invaluable.

Visa Bulletin Predictions by the U.S State Department

Charlie Oppenheim at the U.S. Department of State issues Visa Bulletin predictions as to how rapidly or slowly he expects the priority dates in the employment-based categories to move forward, or to retrogress.

As we are nearing the end of this fiscal year, the EB-3 category will remain the same. Meaning the priority date will not progress nor retrogress. This includes EB-3 worldwide, not just the countries listed on the visa bulletin that are typically backlogged: China, India, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Mexico, Philippines and Vietnam.

Do not be alarmed, because October 1st is the beginning of a new fiscal year. Numbers will once again be available October 2019 for applicants under the fiscal year 2020 annual numerical limitations. Charlie is unable to say when the Final Action Dates for the EB-3 category will once again become current, but it is possible this could happen in October 2019. Charlie hopes for a rapid recovery, however, a timeline for recovery is not guaranteed.

What Is Retrogression?

Typically, the Visa Bulletin’s cut-off dates move forward over time, progressing green card applicants forward in line, however not always. When there are more applications for a green card category in a given month than USCIS or the State Department was expecting, the cut-off dates for the subsequent month might move backwards. This is known as “visa retrogression,” and it predictably occurs around September (the end of the government’s fiscal year).

Charlie Oppenheim at the U.S. Department of State will provide a forewarning of an upcoming retrogression, giving green card applicants time to prepare. However, it is possible that the Visa Bulletin announces an unforeseen visa retrogression, which is an unpleasant surprise for applicants who were anticipating to progress in line, not backward.

Here at WorldWide HealthStaff Solutions, we advise applicants to prepare all the documents necessary for the green card application ahead of time and be ready to file as quickly as possible when the Visa Bulletin shows that a green card is available. When an applicant defers gathering necessary documents, an applicant risks facing an unforeseen retrogression in the upcoming Visa Bulletin, which would close the window of opportunity for filing a green card application.

If an applicant has a filed green card petition, and a visa retrogression occurs, USCIS or the State Department will hold the applicant’s petition until the applicant’s priority date is current. The applicant does not have to do anything other than ensure that his or her contact information is up to date. This is the same for having a green card petition filed after or during a visa retrogression. If you have any questions regarding the Visa Bulletin or other immigration topics, please contact