The Visa Bulletin

Do you know where to look to check your place in the immigration visa queue?

Do you know how to find out whether or not visas are currently available to immigrants from your country, in your particular classification?

The Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication—put out by the U.S. Department of State—that announces the quota limits available in specific immigrant categories for every country. This chapter will explore and explain the main sections of the Visa Bulletin, to see if and how it applies to you. A sample Visa Bulletin (July 2016) is included in Appendix 2.

Generally, immigration in the United States is based on a quota system, which allots numerical limits to various immigrant classifications. The monthly Visa Bulletin serves as a guide for issuing visas at U.S. consulates and embassies.

In order to receive a family-based or employment-based immigrant visa, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must first approve the petition filed by you or filed on your behalf. In some immigrant categories, more foreign nationals want visas than are available for a particular country. Therefore, the approval of an immigrant visa may be a very lengthy process, in some situations. If, however, a foreign national’s immigrant visa petition is approved, he or she can become a permanent resident of the U.S.

WHAT IS A PRIORITY DATE?

A priority date is a person’s “place in line” to get a numerically limited immigrant visa. A foreign national’s priority date must be before the date listed (“cut-off date”) in the foreign national’s respective category in the Visa Bulletin. When reading the Visa bulletin, the letter “C” or the word "Current" indicates that no backlog presently exists in a particular category and visas are available for all applicants in that category. Alternately, the letter “U” or word "Unavailable" indicates that it is not possible—at that time—to apply for permanent residence in that category.

HOW DO I DETERMINE MY PRIORITY DATE?

For a family-based preference, the date that your relative files the petition on your behalf establishes your priority date. Your priority date is the date that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives the petition. For an employment-based preference, the priority date is established when the employer files the labor certification application with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT CATEGORIES OF THE FAMILY AND EMPLOYMENT- BASED PREFERENCES?

The different categories for the family and employment-based preferences are as follows:


FAMILY-SPONSORED PREFERENCES

First: Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400 per year, plus any numbers not required for the fourth preference.

Second: Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents: 114,200 annually, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, and any unused first preference numbers:

A. Spouses and Children: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit;

B. Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older): 23% of the overall second preference limitation.

Third: Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400 each year, plus any numbers not required by the first and second preferences.

Fourth: Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens: 65,000 per year, plus any numbers not required by the first three preferences.


EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCES

First: Priority Workers: 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, plus any numbers not required for the fourth and fifth preferences.

Second: Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability: 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, plus any numbers not required by the first preference.

Third: Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers: 28.6% of the worldwide level, plus any numbers not required by the first and second preferences, not more than 10,000 of which go to "Other Workers."

Fourth: Certain Special Immigrants: 7.1% of the worldwide level.

Fifth: Employment Creation: 7.1% of the worldwide level, not less than 3,000 of which reserved for investors in a targeted rural or high-unemployment area, and 3,000 set aside for investors in regional centers by Sec. 610 of P.L. 102-395.

*Source: U.S. Department of State


WHAT HAPPENS IF MY COUNTRY’S NAME IS NOT LISTED IN THE VISA BULLETIN?

If the Visa Bulletin does not mention the name of your country directly, then you fall under the “all chargeability category.” This means you should look at the chargeability which applies to countries other than India, China, Philippines, The Dominican Republic, and Mexico.


WHERE CAN I FIND THE MOST RECENT VISA BULLETIN?

For the most recent Visa Bulletins, you can visit the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website directly at http://travel.state.gov. You may also submit requests to have the monthly Visa Bulletin mailed to you electronically at your convenience.

CONCLUSION

The United States Department of State’s Visa Bulletin publishes the quota limits available in specific immigrant categories for every country. The Visa Bulletin allows immigrant visa petitioners to know their respective priority dates for when they can file for permanent residency in the United States. Remember that the date you self-petitioned or the date that an immigrant petition was filed on your behalf determines your priority date to qualify for an immigrant visa. Approval of an immigrant visa can lead to permanent residency in the United States.

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