How to Use the U.S. Visa Bulletin

Your family-sponsored or employment-based visa petition has been filed - now what? Now it's time to start monitoring the Department of State's monthly Visa Bulletin to see when your green card becomes available.

The United States only issues a set number of immigrant visas each year, and the Visa Bulletin lets applicants check their place in the queue. Because American visas are in such high demand, applicants may need to wait quite a while for a visa in their category to become available. How long the applicant has to wait depends on:

  • The demand for visas and how many have been issued that year,
  • The per-country visa limitations, and
  • The visa limitations for the applicant's visa category.

The Green Card Application Process

It's important to understand how the Visa Bulletin fits into the green card (or adjustment of status) application process. This process is outlined in the steps below:

Step 1: A qualifying relative or employer files an immigration petition for the foreign national who wants to become a U.S. permanent resident.

Step 2: Based on the petition type, the applicant may be able to adjust their status immediately, or they may have to wait until a visa becomes available.

Step 3: Once their visa is available, the applicant can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

How to Use the Visa Bulletin

Visa applicants use the Visa Bulletin to check if their priority date is current. Your "priority date" is the date when your sponsoring relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition with USCIS. However, if your visa requires a labor certificate then your priority date is the date on which the Department of Labor accepts your labor certification application.

The priority date is very important because a visa is available for applicants who have a priority date that is earlier than the cut-off date listed in the Visa Bulletin. Use this month's Visa Bulletin to see if your priority date is current by following the steps listed below:

Step 1: Based on your visa petition type, look at either the family-sponsored or employment-based chart on the Visa Bulletin.

Step 2: Find your visa type in the left-hand column.

Step 3: Stay in that row and move directly to the right to find the cut-off date for your country.

Step 4: If your priority date is earlier than the cut-off date listed on the Visa Bulletin, or if the date on the bulletin is marked "C" (for current), then there is a visa available for you and you may file your adjustment of status application.

To view this month's Visa Bulletin visit the U.S. Department of State's site.

Visa Categories

The visa categories listed in the Visa Bulletin are explained in the chart below.

Family-Sponsored Visa Categories

Listed on the Visa Bulletin as:

Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens

F1

Spouses and children of permanent residents

F2A

Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years old or older) of permanent residents

F2B

Spouses and children of permanent residents

F3

Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years old or older) of permanent residents

F4

Employment-Based Visa Categories

Listed on the Visa Bulletin as:

Priority workers

1st

Members of the professions holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability

2nd

Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers

3rd

Certain special immigrants

4th

Employment creation

5th

Visa Retrogression

You may be wondering, "Do the Visa Bulletin cut-off dates always move forward in time?" No. It's important to note sometimes a priority date will be current this month and then won't be current next month because the cut-off date was moved backwards to an earlier date. This is called "visa retrogression," and usually occurs when the annual visa limit for a category or country is about to be used up.

Receive the Visa Bulletin Monthly

The Department of State (DOS) generally publishes the new Visa Bulletin during the second week of the month before it takes effect. You can receive each month's Visa Bulletin by subscribing to the DOS's email list. To subscribe, send an email to "listserv@calist.state.gov" and type "Subscribe Visa-Bulletin" in the body of the email.

Additional Resources

If you have any questions about visa issues or having trouble obtaining or extending a visa, it's in your best interests to consult with an immigration lawyer.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you get the best results possible.