Each month, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) releases a publication known as the “Visa Bulletin.” This bulletin contains important information on the details regarding availability of immigrant visas in family-based (FB), employment-based (EB), and diversity lottery (DV) categories, based on filing dates. Because the U.S. has placed restrictions on the number of foreign nationals who may immigrate, obtaining permanent status, each year.
The Immigration and Nationality Act sets annual limits for each category, as well as for each country. For employment and family based categories, the eligibility is determined by the date of initiation, when the first appropriate filing was made to either DOL or USCIS.
Historically, the number of applicants for family-based visa has exceeded the annual limits. Regarding individuals from India and China, the number of applicants for employment-based visas, particularly EB2 and EB3 categories, has historically exceeded the annual limits as well. When the demand exceeds the annual limit, the categories become “oversubscribed.”
The visa bulletin contains charts outlining information needed to determine the availability of a visa for each category. The charts list the cutoff dates by visa category (for employment-based and family-based) and country. To be eligible for a visa, the applicant’s filing date, also known as the “priority date,” must be prior to the cutoff date presented in the chart. When an applicant’s priority date is prior to the cutoff, the applicant is considered “current.” The cutoff dates are established by the U.S. Department of State, and are based on demand estimates.
For diversity lottery candidates, the allocation is a different process, and this is explained in its own area of the bulletin.
Put simply, the availability of a visa means that eligible applicants can take the next steps toward becoming permanent residents of the United States.
Priority date – This is also the date when the applicant’s visa petition was filed with DOS or USCIS, or the filing date. The priority date can also mean the date that the required labor certification was accepted by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Current – This means the applicant’s priority date is prior to the cutoff date.
Oversubscribed – This means that a particular visa category has more applicants than the Immigration and Nationality Act’s annual limits for acceptance.
First: (F1) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens
Second: Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents
A. (F2A) Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents
B. (F2B) Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents
Third: (F3) Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens
Fourth: (F4) Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens
First: Priority Workers
Second: Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability
Third: Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers
Fourth: Certain Special Immigrants