The definitive guide to the USCIS Visa Bulletin

Aug. 21, 2019

Have you applied for a Petition to immigrate into the United States and wondering how to decode the USCIS Visa Bulletin? Keep reading, we've got you covered.

What is the purpose of a USCIS Visa Bulletin?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets a limit on the number of Green Cards that can be issued every year. For the current fiscal year of 2019, that limit is 226,000 for family-based and 141,918 for employment-based green cards respectively. Although 366,000 might look like a lot of green cards, there are many more applicants per year. Moreover, there is a country cap of 7%, which means no single country can get more that 25,754 green cards in a year. So any country that is oversubscribed, meaning the number of applicants from that country exceed the cap, will end up having a backlog and this backlog will grow every year for extremely oversubscribed countries. These countries (China, India, Mexico, Philippines, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Vietnam) have a country specific backlog queue. The rest of the countries fall into the general All Chargeability queue. The USCIS Visa Bulletin publishes the wait times for these backlogs.

What are the types of Visa Bulletins?

There are two different ways you can get in line for securing a US green card. One is by filing your I-130 Petition for Alien Relative (family-based) or the other is by filing your I-140 Petition for Alien Worker (employment-based). There are different bulletins published for the family-based and employment based applicants. Consequently for you, this will mean your wait time depends on the type of green card you have applied.

Here's an example of the India employment-based chart shown at Seeking Visa:

You're seeing the Employment Based India chart

How long do you have to wait after you file a I-130 or a I-140 Petition?

Before you figure out your wait time for getting an approved green card, it's useful for you to know a few key terms:

  • Priority Date - When you file either your I-130 or I-140 Petition, your approved form Form I-797 Notice of Action, returned to you by USCIS will have your Priority Date. This is the date marking your spot in your respective queue. So the earlier you apply for one of these petitions, the earlier your spot in the queue.
  • Country of Chargeability - Depending on which country you were born, you will be in one of the country specific queues for the purposes of calculating the country specific cap. Please note that, as an example, if you were born in India, but your current country of citizenship is Singapore, your country of Chargeability is still India.
  • Visa Type - As indicated above, your visa type will be one of family based or employment based. You will need to look at different bulletin charts depending on your visa type to know where you stand in the queue.
  • Visa Category - Within a visa type, there are different categories under which you would have applied for either the I-130 or I-140 petition. For example, if you're the spouse of a U.S. Citizen, you would be applying under the F1 category under the family based visa type.
  • Cutoff Date - Only priority dates that fall before the cutoff date shown in a visa bulletin chart are eligible for getting a green card.

Once you know these terms, you can find your wait time by looking at the correct visa bulletin chart.

Here's an example: If the priority date on your employment based Form I-140 for the 3rd category is Jul, 04 2016, your country of chargeability is India and the latest USCIS Visa Bulletin shows that the cutoff date for India employment based 3rd category is Jul, 01 2009, then you're not eligible to apply for a Green Card yet. You'll have to wait to apply until the cutoff date is later than your priority date.

What does it mean when your priority date is current?

Being "current" means that you are immediately eligible to apply for a green card. There are two ways to be current based on the cutoff date shown on the visa bulletin chart for your specific visa type:

  1. The cutoff date shown is after your priority date. In the example from the previous section, if your priority date is Jul, 04 2016, you are considered to be current if the cutoff date is Jul, 05 2016 or later.
  2. The cutoff date shows "C". This means you're current irrespective of your priority date.

What does it mean when the cutoff date shows a "U"?

A "U" just means that for your country of chargeability, visa type and visa category, green cards are "Unavailable" or in other words, there is extremely high demand for green cards.

What is the difference between a Final Action Date and Application Filing Date?

  • Final Action Date - If your priority date is current with respect to this date, you can apply and also expect to get an approved green card.
  • Application Filing Date - If your priority date is current with respect to only the Application Filing Date, but not the Final Action Date, then you are allowed to apply for a green card. This means that you will at least receive an Employment Authorization (EAD) until your Final Action Date becomes current. You will still need to wait till your Final Action Date is current for you to receive a green card.

Please note that you cannot always use the Application Filing Date to get an EAD even if it is current. To check if you can use it for a specific bulletin month, please visit the USCIS site here.

How often is the visa bulletin released?

The USCIS Visa Bulletin is released every month. Recent trends indicate is it usually released on or before the 15th of every month. You can find out when the latest bulletin was released by checking Seeking Visa's Employment Bulletin or Family Bulletin and looking at the "Released" information in the top-right corner:

Bulletin Released Date

What's the best way to keep track of the Visa Bulletin Releases?

This is the easy part - you can subscribe to get an instant email alert from Seeking Visa. Just select "Visa Bulletin" from the top menu and put in your email address and select "Notify Me!"

You will be the first to know when a new bulletin is released. Check the Employment Bulletin or the Family Bulletin.

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