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How to Read the Visa Bulletin?

The wait for a green card can feel agonizingly long, especially for those navigating the complexities of the U.S. immigration system. The USCIS Visa Bulletin serves as a vital tool for green card applicants, offering a glimpse into current processing times. 

Green card backlogs arise when the number of applicants in a particular category exceeds the annually available visas. The Visa Bulletin, released monthly by the U.S. Department of State, reflects these backlogs by indicating the "cut-off date" for each visa preference category. This date signifies the earliest priority date an applicant within that category can expect to have their case processed.

Key Terms:

  • Priority Date: This date marks the moment USCIS receives your application for permanent residence. It establishes your place in line for a visa.

  • Cut-Off Date: The Visa Bulletin lists a cut-off date for each preference category. If your priority date falls before this date, your application is eligible for processing. Conversely, if your priority date is later, you'll need to wait until the cut-off date advances to your priority date.

The Visa Bulletin categorizes green card applicants based on their relationship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The five main family-based preference categories include:

  • F1: For unmarried children of U.S. citizens (over 21 years old)

  • F2A: For spouses and minor children of  Permanent Residents 

  • F2B: For adult children (unmarried and over 21 years old) of permanent residents

  • F3: For married children of U.S. citizens

  • F4: For brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.

The Visa Bulletin is divided into two main sections: 

Section A: Final Action Dates

This section shows which priority dates have reached the front of the line and are ready for approval. These are green card applications that can be submitted now. In other words, if your priority date falls before the date listed in this section for your preference category, an immigrant visa is available to you as long as you meet the requirements.

Section B: Dates For Filing

This section is specifically for green card applicants who are living outside of the United States. It indicates when they should go ahead and submit their application with the National Visa Center (NVC). Even though a green card is not ready just yet, filing early allows applicants to get a head start on assembling and submitting all the required documents. The cut-off dates in the "dates for filing" chart are typically slightly later (by 1-10 months) than those in the "final action dates" chart. This gives applicants a window to file their applications well before their green card becomes available.

By comparing your priority date to the cut-off date listed for your specific preference category in the Visa Bulletin, you can gain an approximate idea of how long you might wait for your green card application to be processed. Remember, the Visa Bulletin is a snapshot of current processing times, and these dates can fluctuate over time.

Country-Specific Columns

The Visa Bulletin features separate columns for China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines. This is because the wait time for a green card can be significantly longer for applicants from these countries. The annual demand for green cards from these countries surpasses the 7% "country cap" implemented by the U.S. immigration system. As a consequence, these four countries have their own distinct backlogs and green card processing lines.

What is Retrogression

In the context of the Visa Bulletin, retrogression signifies a situation where the number of applications submitted for a particular green card category in a given month exceeds the expectations of USCIS or the State Department. This phenomenon leads to a backward movement of the cut-off dates for the following month. Visa retrogression is most likely to occur around September, which coincides with the conclusion of the U.S. government's fiscal year.

The green card application process can undoubtedly be lengthy and perplexing. However, the USCIS Visa Bulletin serves as a valuable tool to manage expectations and stay informed throughout your immigration journey. By familiarizing yourself with the Visa Bulletin and its terminology, you can approach the green card process with a sense of clarity and anticipation.

It is certainly not easy to understand the complexity of US immigration. But we are here to help you, reach us at (512) 894-9984 to schedule a consultation with our attorney.


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