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The Visa Bulletin Explained – How Does the Visa Bulletin Work?

Published: 11/15/2023

What is the Visa Bulletin?

Published monthly by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), the Visa Bulletin provides information on visa availability and cutoff dates which determine which immigrant visa (green card) applicants are eligible to complete the final stages of the green card application process and which green card applications can be approved.  The availability and cutoff dates are essentially DOS’s allocations of the visa numbers based on the applicable annual green card quotas.

By law the U.S. government can only give out a certain number of green cards (or immigrant visas) each year and there are certain rules about how many visas can be used in each country and preference category (such as EB-2, EB-3, FB-2A, etc.).  Because the green card categories are oversubscribed (there are more applicants seeking green cards under almost every category), the Visa Bulletin helps the government keep track of all these visa number allocations and it also allows applicants to get some idea as to when they can apply for a green card based on their country of birth and their immigrant petition preference category and when it can be approved.  Put simply, the Visa Bulletin is a “waiting list” guide.

The Visa Bulletin Explained – How Does the Visa Bulletin Work?

The Visa Bulletin allows applicants with approved or pending immigrant petitions (such as I-130, I-140 and others) to determine if they are eligible to take the next step in their green card process. In each month’s Visa Bulletin DOL provides two sets of dates (“cutoff dates”) – “Dates for Filing” and “Final Action” for employment and for family-based immigrants which dates determine who can start and who can finish their last green card application stage.

If an applicant’s priority date is earlier than the published date for the relevant country and preference category during that month’s Visa Bulletin, then they are considered to be “current” and may be able to either start the last stage of expect an approval.

Illustration 1:





Based on this sample illustration, an EB-2 applicant born in India will need to have a priority date before May 15, 2012 in order to be eligible to submit their I-485 application.  Similarly, an I-140 EB-3 applicant born Germany (or any country other than India, China, Mexico or Philippines) will need to have a priority date before February 1, 2023 in order to be “current” and be able to file I-485.

If the applicant’s priority date is not current then they have to wait for the next month’s Visa Bulletin and hope that there is sufficient forward movement.

“Dates for Filing” – Starting the I-485 Adjustment of Status Filing or Consular Processing

The Visa Bulletin allows applicants to determine when they can start the last stage of the green card process by either filing Form I-485 Application to Adjust Status with USCIS (if they are in the US) or by pursuing consular processing through DOS.  This is determined by the section of the Visa Bulletin under the designation “Dates for Filing”.

Illustration 2:
(the example below based on date published in the December 2023 Visa Bulletin).

Mr. John is born in India, is in the U.S. in valid H-1B status and has approved EB-3 I-140 immigrant petition with a priority date of July 24, 2012.  Because the priority date (July 24, 2012) is earlier than the cutoff date for EB-2 India (August 1, 2012), Mr. John is eligible to submit his I-485 application as early as the first day of the month of the applicable Visa Bulletin.







Illustration 3:

Based on the same chart, Ms. Paul who is born in China and has EB-1 I-140 priority date of December 1, 2022 is not yet able to file her I-485 because December 1, 2022 is not earlier than August 1, 2022 in this example.  She will need to wait until the next month’s Visa Bulletin.

The USCIS “Adjustment of Status Filing Chart” Actually Determines Who Can File I-485 Applications

Very importantly and to make things a bit more confusing for I-485 filing purposes, each month USCIS decides on its own whether they will accept the “Dates for Filing” or the “Final Action” table of that month’s Visa Bulletin.   This announcement is made at about the same time DOS releases each month’s Visa Bulletin and is published on the USCIS website.  This announcement is separate from the DOS’s Visa Bulletin publication so prospective I-485 applicants have to check the USCIS acceptance chart.

“Final Action” – Expecting Approval of the I-485 or the Immigrant Visa Interview/Approval at the US Consulate

The Visa Bulletin also allows applicants to determine when they can expect approval of their pending I-485 Adjustment of Status application (if they are in the US) or their immigrant visa (if they are abroad or processing at the US Consulate).  This is determined by the section of the Visa Bulletin called “Final Action.”

When a pending application’s priority date is earlier than the published cutoff date for the relevant preference category and country of birth under the “Final Action” category, it is deemed that there is a “visa number available” for the applicant and USCIS or DOS can complete (and approve) the pending green card or immigrant visa application.  Most often USCIS would have already pre-adjudicated the I-485 application and they would simply be waiting for an available visa number and when this happens USCIS is often able to issue an approval of the green card fairly quickly.   For immigrant visa cases pending at the Consulate, having an available visa generally means that the Consulate is able to schedule a final interview and, if all goes well after the interview, to issue an approval of the immigrant visas.

Illustration 4:

Mr. Star is born in India, is in the US and has a pending I-485 application based on EB-1 petition with December 31, 2016 priority date.   The Visa Bulletin’s “Final Action” cutoff date is January 1, 2017.  Because Mr. Star’s priority date is current, his pending I-485 application can be approved by USCIS.

Read More: Cilawgroup
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