What is the Visa Bulletin?

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    Immigration to the United States is limited in most immigration categories is limited by numerical ("quota") restrictions.  The Visa Bulletin is a monthly statement by the U.S. Department of State of visa numbers available in specific categories for all countries.  In the visa bulletin, "C" means a category is current.  Current is a term of art that refers to the fact that the U.S. INS or consular post is currently "calling" those visa petitions with a date on or before the "current" date. A date against a category means only petitions with priority dates shown are being allocated visas.

Note:  Immediate relatives (spouse/minor children/ parents, not including brothers and sisters) of U.S. citizens are exempt from any numerical restrictions).  Accordingly, they do not have to wait for visa availability.
 

Explanation of Preference Categories for U.S. Immigration

    Generally speaking there are three (3) classes under which a person may immigrate to the U.S.:

I.    Family-Sponsored Preference Categories

Numbers of visa within this category are allocated as follows:

First preference (FS-1): Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of United States citizens: 23,400 per fiscal year, plus any visas not needed for the fourth preference category.

Second preference (FS-2): Spouses, children, and unmarried sons and unmarried daughters of permanent resident aliens: 114,200 plus any number by which the worldwide level exceeds 226,000, plus any visas not used for the first preference. At least 77% of the second preference visas must be issued to spouses and children.

Note: The Second preference category is divided into "2A" (spouses and children under 21 of lawful permanent residents) and "2B" (married children over 21 of lawful permanent resident aliens).

Third preference (FS-3): Married sons and married daughters over 21 of United States citizens: 234,000 visas plus any not used by the first and second preferences.

Fourth preference (FS-4): Brothers and sisters of United States citizens (citizens must be at least 21 years old): 65,000 visas plus any not used for the first, second or third preference.
 

II.    Employment-Based Preference Categories

Numbers of  visa within this category are allocated as follows:

Employment Based Category One (EB-1 or Priority Workers): Aliens with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers and certain multinational executives and managers: 40,000 visas a year plus any not used for categories (4) and (5) below.

Employment Based Category Two (EB-2 is for Advanced Degree Professionals): Aliens who are members of the professions holding advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business: 40,000 visas a year, plus any not used by Priority Workers

Employment Based Category Three (EB-3 is for Skilled Workers, Professionals and Other Workers): 40,000 visas a year, plus any not used for the first two classes. Only 10,000 of the visas, however, may go to ``Other Workers'' (i.e., unskilled workers).

Employment Based Category Four (EB-4 is for Certain Special Immigrants: 10,000 visas a year, with no more than 5,000 being allocated to religious workers.

Employment Based Category Five (EB-5 is for Alien investors or entrepreneurs): 10,000 visas a year, of which at least 3,000 go to alien entrepreneurs setting up businesses in a ``targeted employment area.''
 

III.    Diversity Visas

The permanent diversity program established in the 1990 Act went into effect in fiscal year 1994, allocating 55,000 immigrant visas annually based upon a visa lottery.  Persons from certain selected countries are eligible to participate in the lottery. See Diversity Visa ("Lottery")
 

Explanation of Priority Dates

    The priority date that a prospective immigrant receives determines a person's place in line (e.g., similar to taking a number in a store) for a numerically limited immigrant visa.  Generally, the priority date is the date the immigrant visa petition requesting preference classification is accepted for INS processing.
 
 

Priority Dates
For Category Priority Date is
All Family Preference The date the U.S. Government (INS) accepts the petition (Form I-130) as having been filed.
EB-3 and EB-2 (where a labor certification is required) The date of filing the labor certification with State Employment Service Agency
EB-1 and National Intetest Waivers (a subcategory of EB-2, where a labor certification is not required) The date the U.S. Government (INS) accepts the petition (Form I-140) as having been filed.

Prediction of Visa Avaialability

    The Visa Bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of State provides availability of visas on a per country basis and within each preference category.  The Visa Bulletin is issued monthly by the State Department, usually between the 8th and 15th day each month. It is very difficult to estimate the likely waiting time before an immigrant visa becomes available, but certain patterns MAY be discernible based on the past visa availability.  A reveiw of the Visa Bulletin over a period of several months may help to approximate how long it may take for the applicant's priority date to be reached.  In many categories, visa numbers tend to get clogged up towards the end of the U.S. government fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).  Usually, the U.S. Department's projections, also stated in the Visa Bulletin can be a good guide.
 

The Mechanics of Visa Counting

    Within the U.S. Department of State, Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division controls the allocation of visa numbers for preference category immigrant visa applicants. It compiles visa statistics and advises consular posts on the completion of their own visa statistical and workload reports. It projects visa availability and workload trends and publishes ``Visa Bulletin,'' which announces visa preference category priority dates and gives general information on changes in visa policy. It also publishes the "Annual Report of the Visa Office,"' which summarizes statistics on visa operations worldwide.

    All consular offices and INS district offices submit monthly reports to the Immigrant Visa Control Division.  In some instances, particular consulates may find that heavy workloads or other considerations may delay consideration of applications for immigrant visas, and in such cases the consulate may establish its own administrative waiting list.
 
 


Endnotes

Labor Certification
Certain employment-based categories require certification from the U.S. Department of Labor that there are no U.S. workers available to perform the work that is offered to the alien on a permanent basis.  This certification is required for: (1) all EB-3 preference petitions; and (2) most EB-2 preference petitions, except where the EB-2 petition is filed as a "National Interest Waiver."   The labor certification process can take a long time, sometimes more than two to three years, depending upon the U.S. Department of Labor Region and the state level processing times.