There are a limited number of employment-based immigrant visas (“green cards”) available each year, and they are divided between several preference categories. The Immigration and Nationality Act sets a worldwide level at 140,000 for annual employment-based preference immigrants. Each country can receive no more than 7% of the total annual family-sponsored and employment-based preference limits, i.e. 25,620.
Whenever there are more qualified applicants for a preference category than there are available visa numbers, the preference category will become oversubscribed, or “backlogged.” The U.S. Department of State then creates a “priority date cut off” for the oversubscribed categories. For the past several years, there has been a high demand in the employment-based second preference category (EB-2) for Indian and Chinese nationals, and in the employment-based third category (EB-3) for all countries. This has created a significant backlog resulting in a long, unpredictable wait for permanent resident status for many individuals. In some cases, it may be advisable to contact a lawyer to discuss alternate visas you could petition for.
The backlog occurs at the final stage of the permanent residence process. An individual on whose behalf an employer has obtained a certified Application for Permanent Employment Certification and has filed an I-140 Petition cannot move to the final step of applying for the I-485 Application or immigrant visa until his or her priority date becomes current. The date the employer filed the Application for Permanent Employment Certification determines the priority date. For the priority date to “lock-in” the Department of Labor must certify the Application for Permanent Employment Certification and the USCIS must approve the I-140 Immigrant Petition.
Match up your country of birth in the topmost row with your preference category. In the intersecting box, you will find a cutoff date, a ‘c’ for “current,” meaning there is not a backlog in that category, or a 'u' for "unauthorized," meaning visas will not be issued to the country at this time. The visa bulletin will now have two different charts because of revised procedures. DOS will post two charts per visa preference category in the visa bulletin. These charts are for the Application Final Action Dates (dates when visas may be issued) and Dates for Filing Applications (earliest dates when applicants may apply). Please see the bulletin for further detail.
Each month, the U.S. Department of State adjusts these cutoff dates based on projected demand in each visa preference category. The projected demand is based on the number of I-485 applications pending or anticipated, as well as the number of immigrant visa applications in process at the U.S. consular posts abroad. DOS also takes into consideration the rate that applications have historically been denied, withdrawn, or abandoned.
Movement in the cutoff dates is unpredictable. The dates move forward, backward, and can stay the same from month-to-month based on demand and processing speed.
The Visa Bulletin is published in the middle of each month and is available on the U.S. Department of State’s website. The Department of State also publishes a recording of visa final action dates around the 10th of each month for the following months. Call (202)-485-7699 to access this month's recording.
Read last month's bulletin here.
This blog post does not serve as legal advice and does not establish any client-attorney privilege. Do not take any action based on the information contained in this post without consulting a qualified immigration attorney. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our legal team directly.
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