The procedures regarding immigrant visa availability have changed for the benefit of intending US permanent resident (i.e., greencard) applicants. These changes are reflected in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin which may be viewed at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin/2016/visa-bulletin-for-october-2015.html.
The US Department of State’s (DOS’s) monthly Visa Bulletin will now include two charts per visa preference category for Family-based and Employment-based applicants as follows:
Dates for Filing Applications (Sections 4.B. and 5.B of Visa Bulletin)
In Sections 4.B. (Family-Sponsored Preference Cases) and 5.B. (Employment-Based Preference Cases), “Application Final Action Dates” are listed. The information in this part of the Visa Bulletin “reflects dates for filing visa applications within a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process”.
Consular Processing/National Visa Center
If an immigrant visa applicant has a priority date that is earlier than the cut-off date listed in Section 4.B. or 5.B., the Visa Bulletin indicates that the US Department of State National Visa Center (NVC) will notify the applicant with detailed instructions to assemble and submit documents to the NVC. The NVC accepts documents needed to process a greencard application abroad at a consular post of the US Department of State.
Adjustment of Status
The October 2015 Visa Bulletin also states that USCIS may use the “Dates for Filing Applications” chart (in lieu of the “Application Final Action Dates” chart in paragraphs 4.A. and 5.A.) to determine when an application for adjustment of status may be filed. Adjustment applicants are directed to visit www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo for more information. This statement in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin is consistent with USCIS’s announcement today that each month it will “monitor the visa numbers and post the relevant DOS Visa Bulletin chart” on its website under “When to File”. An intending greencard applicant can then use this information to determine when to file an adjustment application (Form I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status). The “Dates for Filing Applications” chart may be used only when USCIS determines that additional immigrant visa numbers are available. Otherwise, per USCIS guidance, the “Application Final Action Dates” chart must be used by intending Adjustment of Status applicants. www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo.
The dates in the “Dates for Filing Applications” sections of the Visa Bulletin are significantly further ahead of those listed in the September 2015 Visa Bulletin. For example, in September 2015, the EB-2 India cut-off date was January 1, 2006. http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin/2015/visa-bulletin-for-september-2015.html In the October 2015 Visa Bulletin, “Dates for Filing Applications” chart, the cut-off date for EB-2 India is July 1, 2011. The implications are clear. Under the revised process, considerably more people should be eligible to file their visa applications at earlier dates than under the prior system.
As an aside, a “C” in the Dates for Filing Applications chart indicates that the category is “current”, i.e., that applications may be filed “regardless of the applicant’s priority date”.
Application Final Action Dates (Sections 4.A. and 5.A of Visa Bulletin)
In Sections 4.A. (Family-Sponsored Preference Cases) and 5.A. (Employment-Based Preference Cases), “Application Final Action Dates” are listed when the class is oversubscribed. This may be specific to preference categories for a particular country or could affect all countries.
If a category is oversubscribed it means that “not all demand” for visas could be satisfied for that country/category. These dates are now noted as the “dates when visas may finally be issued” as determined based on available data.
A “C” in the Application Final Action Dates chart indicates that the category is “current”, i.e., that visa numbers are authorized to be issued to all qualified applicants for that country/category. In other words, there enough visas available to meet the overall demand.
A “U” in the Application Final Action Dates chart means that visa numbers are not authorized to be issued during that month for that country/category.
Keep in mind that visa numbers are only authorized for issuance to applicants whose priority date is earlier than the cut-off date listed in the Visa Bulletin.
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The new processes, implemented as a result of President Obama’s November 2014 immigration executive action and the subsequent July 2015 report captioned “Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century”, are expected to enable the Department of State to more accurately predict the visa demand and cut-off date information which it publishes in its monthly Visa Bulletin. It is anticipated that these revisions will facilitate use of all available visa numbers per fiscal year and reduce monthly fluctuations in the “final action dates”.
Ms. Wadhwani is a partner in the Immigration Practice Group at Fox Rothschild LLP. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.