• How to Decipher and Read the U.S. Visa Bulletin

    Every month, around the end of the first week, the Department of State issues a Visa Bulletin to inform the public how many immigrant visas have been issued (i.e.: how many greencard “slots” have been issued.”)  The charts on the visa bulletin are a bit confusing because there are many different categories and countries.  Sometimes, the indications move backwards (“retrogress”) instead of moving forwards, thereby making wait times for a greencard even longer.

    How exactly does one decipher and read the Visa Bulletin?  While there are plenty of articles, there are few visual aids.  We’re attempting to tackle this task today!

    Read Me First: The Visa Bulletin indicates when a foreign national may either submit their greencard application, or, if the application has already been submitted, when the government is currently reviewing that application.  “When” this occurs is based on when the underlying immigrant petition was initially submitted to USCIS.  That date is considered a “priority date” and will be notated on the immigrant visa petition approval.

    Step 1: Visit the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin webpage.  There are usually links to the current month and the next month’s chart.  There are also links to archived bulletins from past years.  Select the link you wish to inspect.

    US Visa Bulletin

    Step 2: Locate your “Preference” charts.  The Preference is the basis for which the applicant is eligible to apply for a greencard.  There are three preferences:

    1. Family Preference: when a relative sponsors you for a greencard
    2. Employment Preference: when you are eligible to apply for a greencard through employment purposes
    3. Diversity Lottery Preference: when you are eligible to apply based on the Diversity Lottery. Read more about it here.

    Today’s article focuses on the second preference based on employment charts.  (You’ll notice there are two charts under this preference.  Chart A. Final Action Dates is normally the default chart.  We’ll address the issue of why there are two charts at Step 4).

    Step 3: Locate your Employment-Based (EB) preference category.  For example, let’s say your employer filed an immigrant petition based on the EB-3 category.  Then your preference category would be “3rd”.  Then, locate the country you were born.  The intersection where the preference category meets the country of birth is the visa date the government is current reviewing greencard applications.  In the example in the illustration below, an Indian national who is 3rd preference category would have a visa date of March 8, 2005.  This means that if the priority date on the Indian national’s I-140 immigrant petition approval notice is March 8, 2010, the Indian national would be waiting another five years before her priority date will be current and she will be eligible to submit her greencard application.  (Note that if she had already submitted her greencard application, then the government will review her application once her priority meets or precedes the visa date indicated on the Visa Bulletin.

    How to Read US Visa Bulletin

    Q:  What if the intersection date say’s “C”?  “C” stands for current.  Priority dates that are current means that applicants who submit their greencard applications need only to wait as long as it takes an officer to review the case.  They applicant doesn’t experience the long delays that are found in other preference categories.

    Q: Why is 1st Preference Category current for all country nationals?  This is usually the case because the number of applicants in this category seldom exceed the visa quota imposed in this category.  In other words, when there are plenty of visas allotted for that category, and the number of applicants are low, the visa dates are almost always current.

    Q: I checked last month and my priority date preceded my preference category date.  This month, when I checked again, I noticed the date moved backwards.  What does this mean?  When visa dates move backwards from the prior month instead of advancing, this means that visa numbers “retrogressed.”  This is a calibration method by the Department of State.  The Department of State controls the Visa Bulletin but both the Department of State and USCIS issue visa numbers.  As a result, USCIS must report to the Department of State how many visa numbers were by USCIS so that the Visa Bulletin can be adjusted.  Sometimes, part of that adjustment means that visa dates retrogress in order to ensure the correct amount of visa numbers are issued for the fiscal year in that preference category.  (There is a finite number of visas that can be issued per category.)

    Step 4: Why are there two different Employment-Based charts and what do they mean?


    Back in the days when only one chart was used, Chart A. Final Action Dates was the only chart.

    Chart B. Dates for Filing was the delayed implementation of President Obama’s Executive Action recommendation in November 2014 for the Department of State to modernize its greencard backlog.  It was first introduced back in September 9, 2015 for October 2015’s Visa Bulletin but quickly created a lot of confusion.  A revised October 2015 Visa Bulletin was issued on September 25, 2015.  The basis for the second chart was to equalize the amount of time individuals would generally have to wait to submit their greencard applications.  USCIS process applications from individuals in the U.S. waiting to apply for their greencards whereas the Department of State processes applications from individuals waiting.  The wait times for either queue were not equitable so Chart B was meant to equalize the wait times.

    Q: How do I know whether I should use Chart A or Chart B?  If you are waiting in the U.S. and planning on “adjusting your status”, then you may use Chart B only when USCIS had indicated it is okay to do so.

    Step 5: You can determine when USCIS says it’s okay to rely on Chart B usually by mid-month of each month. USCIS will update is visa bulletin instructions webpage and instruct whether to use “Final Action Dates” chart or “Dates for Filing” chart for both the current month and the next month.  (See screenshot below.)

    Final Action or Filing Date Chart

    So there you have it; a very easy tutorial on how to read the Visa Bulletin.  If you want more tips like this, subscribe to this blog!

  • Diversity Immigrant Visa Program Begins Oct 4, 2016

    Tomorrow, October 4, 2016 is the opening day for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program Fiscal Year 2018!  The DV program is a part of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows immigrants from historically low rates of immigration the opportunity to apply for a greencard in the U.S.  Each year, 50,000 diversity visa (DVs) are available.

    All eligible applicants must submit their applications online.  Similar to the H-1B Lottery where USCIS conducts a computerized drawing, the Department of State uses a computerized system to randomly draw winners in the DV Program.  Winners are eligible to advance to the next step of applying for a greencard.

    The DV Program is great for foreigners interested in permanently immigrating to the United States.  However, this process is not without some pitfalls and warnings.  First, foreign nationals who are in the United States in a temporary non-immigrant status should be warned that submitting an immigrant visa application to the U.S. government may negatively impact your non-immigrant status.  Please double-check with an immigration attorney if you find yourself in this situation.  Second, the deadline to successful navigate through this process, if you are selected in the lottery, expires quickly.  If you snooze, you will lose!

    What Are the DV Program Eligibility Requirements?

    To be eligible to submit an online application, applicants

    1. Must be born in an eligible country.
      1. Nationals of these countries are ineligible: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.
      2. Nationals of all other countries listed by the Department of State, including the countries persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan, are eligible.
      3. You may claim the country of birth of your spouse, or your parent (certain limitations apply)
    2. Must meet the educational or work requirements
      1. At least a high school education or equivalent, or
      2. 2 years of work experience within the past 5 years, in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform

    When Should Applicants Submit their DV Program Application?

    The period to apply usually opens sometime in early October of each year and lasts for about a month.  The Department of State typically will make an announcement each fiscal year in September.

    For example, the FY2018 DV Lottery opens on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at noon Eastern Standard Time and ends at noon, Eastern Standard Time, Monday, November 7, 2016.

    Applicants may submit only one electronic entry.  Submitting more than one entry will disqualify the applicant.  There is no fee to submit an application online.  Each application is considered one entry.  For married applicants, their spouses may submit their own, separate application.

    What Information Is Needed to Submit a DV Program Application?

    Applications must be submitted online to the Department of State’s DV Program Website.  The following information will be required from all applicants:

    • Name
    • Gender
    • Date of birth
    • City where you were born
    • Country where you were born
    • Country in which you are eligible under the DV Program
    • Digital photograph taken within the last six months
    • Mailing address
    • Country where you currently live
    • Phone number
    • Email address
    • Details about your highest education level
    • Current marital status
    • Number of children

    Applicants will receive an online entry registration that contains a unique confirmation number.  Applicants will know their online submission was successful when a confirmation number is issued.

    How Are Applicants Notified of Selection in the Lottery?

    In May of the following year, the Department of State will usually announce the results of the DV Program.  The Entrant Status Check is made available on the E-DV Website www.dvlottery.state.gov where applicants can check their unique confirmation number to see if their application was selected in the DV Program lottery.  (If you lost your confirmation number, you may retrieve your confirmation number on the website.)

    For the FY2018 DV Program, the website will be available from May 2, 2017 through the end of September 30, 2018.  Applicants will be able to check if their applications were selected or not selected in the DV Program lottery.  Being selected does not mean an immigrant visa (aka “greencard”) has been issued; it merely means that applicants are now eligible for the next step in the process, applying for an immigrant visa.

    Applicants selected will be redirected to a link with instructions on how to submit an immigrant visa application and what fees will need to be paid.

    When to Submit an Immigrant Visa (aka Greencard)?

    Immigrant visa applications may be submitted during very specific periods of time within that fiscal year period.  For example, an applicant who submitted an application in October 2016 for the FY2018 DV Program, and was selected in the lottery in May 2017 will need to monitor the E-DV website regularly to determine when he or she will be eligible to advance to the final step: submitting the immigrant visa application.

    Not everyone who is selected in the DV Program lottery will be able to submit an immigrant visa application immediately.  This is because the Department of State usually selects over 50,000 applicants, because not all the applicants selected in the lottery will ultimately meet the requirements to be approved for an immigrant visa.  The Department of State will issue a lottery ranking to each selected applicant via the E-DV website.  The lottery ranking numbers will correspond with a range of numbers each month, indicating which ranks are eligible to submit an immigrant visa application.  Lottery rank numbers that are current indicate the applicant is eligible to submit their immigrant visa applications.

    Therefore, applicants should monitor the E-DV website regularly and submit their immigrant visa applications as soon as their lottery ranks are within the current numbers.  Their applications must also be reviewed, approved and issued on or before the end of the fiscal year of that program.  For example, FY2018 DV Program applicants who are selected in the lottery must have their immigrant visa applications approved/issued on or before September 30, 2018.

    Visit the Department of State’s DV website or read the official instructions here to confirm a list of eligible countries.  If you liked today’s article, please share it with your friends and subscribe to blog today.