The Visa Bulletin: How to Read it?

U.S. building

What is the Typical Wait Time in Receiving my Green Card?

If you have a pending Green Card application, either an I-130 ( Petition for Alien Relative) or an I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers), one of the most pressing questions you most likely have is- how long will the process take? Or when can you expect to take the next step, either through filing an adjustment of status application or scheduling a visa appointment at a U.S. consulate? The visa bulletin is a tool you can use to make that determination!

Related: Getting A Green Card Through Marriage: A Complete Guide

What Is the Visa Bulletin & What Is Its Purpose?

Most people seeking Green Cards are sponsored by a family member (I-130) or an employer (I-140). It’s important to know that approval of either form I-130 or I-140 is only the first step. After approval, you must either apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate or apply to adjust your status (the process that allows people already in the U.S. to receive their Green Card without leaving the country). 

The amount of people who apply for Green Cards is greater than the number of Green Cards available. There is a number limit of permanent residency visas available per year for most categories, both work, and family-based, and how many can be issued by the country of citizenship. Because of that, there is a wait time for many Green Card categories and people from countries with large numbers of people seeking permanent residency. 

That’s where the visa bulletin comes in. The visa bulletin is a document provided by the Department of State each month which allows you to estimate when you can either begin the consular appointment process or file form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust status and how long it will take to receive your Green Card.

Curious how long after you get a green card, you can apply for citizenship? Learn more here

reading a bulletin

What Types of Visas Are Included in the Bulletin?

The visa bulletin has information on processing times for both employment-based and family-based Green Cards.  

Related: VAWA Green Card: What You Need to Know

Family Preference Category (F): 

The number of visas available for family-based Green Card applicants is set based on family relationships. There is no limit on the number of visas available for spouses, parents, and single children under 21 of U.S. citizens (this is the ” immediate relative” category). That means that the visa can be issued as soon as USCIS can process the application; there is no additional waiting period. The consular appointment process can begin as soon as the I-130 is approved. That also means that adjustment of status applications can be filed concurrently (at the same time) as the I-130. 

According to the Travel.State.Gov, the other family-based categories are:

First: (F1) Unmarried Daughters and Sons of U.S. Citizens: 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.

Second: Children and Spouses, and Unmarried Daughters and Sons of Permanent Residents: 114,200, plus the number by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused first preference numbers:

  1. (F2A) Children and Spouses of Permanent Residents: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit;
  1. (F2B) Unmarried Daughters and Sons (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents: 23% of the overall second preference limitation.

Related: What is the Fiancé Visa (K1 Visa?) 

Third: (F3) Married Daughters and Sons of U.S. Citizens: 23,400, and any numbers not required by the first and second preferences.

Fourth: (F4) Sisters and Brothers of Adult U.S. Citizens: 65,000, plus any numbers not required by the first three preferences.

Related: I Just Received My Citizenship, What About My Minor Children? 

Employment-Based (EB)

As with family-based Green Cards, employment-based Green Cards are divided up into preference categories

The  First: Priority Workers: Aliens with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; or Certain multinational managers and executives. 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, plus any numbers not required for fourth and fifth preferences.

The  Second: Persons of Exceptional Ability or Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees: 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, also any numbers not required by first preference.

The  Third: Professionals, Skilled Workers, and Other Workers: 28.6% of the worldwide level, also any numbers not required by first and second preferences, not more than 10,000 of which to Other Workers.

The Fourth: Certain Special Immigrants: 7.1% of the worldwide level.

The  Fifth: Employment Creation: 7.1% of the worldwide level, not less than 3,000 reserved for investors in a targeted rural or high-unemployment area, and 3,000 sets aside for investors in regional centers.

Related: Immigration FAQ

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What Must I Know to Read the Visa Bulletin Properly?

Interpreting the information on the visa bulletin can be tricky for people who are not familiar with it. You will need to know some essential information to understand how it applies to your situation.

  • Priority Date: When a Green Card petition is filed on your behalf, you are issued a priority date. This date can be found in the top section of either your I-130/ I-140 receipt or approval notice. Your priority date sets your place in line.
  • Preference Category: You will need to know which of the above-described employment or family-based visa categories you fall into.
  • Final Action Dates: The date when a visa for a given priority date is available. The charts below show the final action dates from the September 2020 Visa Bulletin based on country and visa category. A “C” stands for current, meaning that there is currently no waiting period for that particular visa category and country.

Final Action Dates

Family-
Sponsored 
All Chargeability 
Areas Except
Those Listed
China-mainland 
born
IndiaMexicoPhilippines 
F115SEP1415SEP1415SEP1408JAN9815DEC11
F2ACCCCC
F2B08JUL1508JUL1508JUL1508APR9901AUG11
F315JUN0815JUN0815JUN0801AUG9615FEB02
F422SEP0622SEP0608MAR0522JUN9801JAN02

Employment
based
All Chargeability 
Areas Except
Those Listed
ChinaEl Salvador
Guatemala
Honduras
IndiaMexicoPhilippinesVietnam
1stC01MAR18C01MAR18CCC
2ndC15JAN16C08JUL09CCC
3rd01APR1915FEB1701APR1901OCT0901APR1901APR1901APR19
Other Workers01APR1901AUG0801APR1901OCT0901APR1901APR1901APR19
4thCC01APR17C15JUN18CC
Certain Religious WorkersCC01APR17C15JUN18CC
5th Non-Regional Center
C15AUG15CCCC01AUG17
5th Regional Center
C15AUG15CCCC01AUG17

Chargeability Area: Your country of birth.  It is not accepted for any country to have more than 7% of the visas in any particular category.  There are separately chargeable areas for employment-based visas in China, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (those three Central American countries are together), India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam.  Because of the high demand for employment-based Green Cards among people from those countries, you can expect a longer wait time than someone not from one of those countries.  If you seek a family-based Green Card, you can expect a longer wait if you are from China, India, Mexico, or the Philippines.

Dates for Filing:  The date a person with a given priority date can submit their application to the National Visa Center to initiate the consular appointment process.  The Visa Bulletin includes a link to the USCIS website that you can use to file for adjustment of status.  That link will indicate whether you should use the final action date or the date for filing to determine when you should file your status application adjustment.  The charts below show the dates for filing from the September 2020 Visa Bulletin based on the country and visa category.   If the date of filing is current for your visa category and country, you can apply for your Adjustment of Status application concurrently. 

Dates for Filing- September 2020:  

Family-basedAll Chargeability Areas ExceptThose ListedChinaIndiaMexicoPhillipines
F1-  Unmarried Sons & Daughters of U.S. Citizens22JUL1522JUL1522JUL1522JUL1508OCT12
F2A-  Spouses & Children of Permanent Residents:01AUG2001AUG2001AUG2001AUG2001AUG20
F2B- Unmarried Sons & Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents01MAY1601MAY1601MAY1601DEC9901APR12
F3- Married Sons & Daughters of U.S. Citizens01JUN0901JUN0901JUN0915AUG0022DEC02
F4-  Brothers & Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens15SEP0715SEP0722NOV0522APR9901SEP02

Employment-
based
All Chargeability
Areas Except
Those Listed
China-
mainland 
born
El Salvador
Guatemala
Honduras
IndiaMexico Philippines 
1stC01JUL18C01JUL18CC
2ndC01AUG16C15AUG09 CC
3rd01APR2001MAY1701APR2001FEB1001APR2001APR20
Other Workers01APR2001OCT0801APR2001FEB1001APR2001APR20
4thCC01OCT17CCC
Certain Religious WorkersCC01OCT17CCC
5th Non-Regional Center
(C5 and T5)
C15DEC15CCCC
5th Regional Center
(I5 and R5)
C15DEC15CCCC

What Impacts the Wait Time for My Visa?

Using the above charts as a guide, you can see that there is not a waiting period if you are seeking an EB-1 visa (1st Preference) and you are from Germany (A country under “All Chargeability Areas “), but if you are seeking an EB-3 visa (3rd preference) and you are from India, you can expect a wait of more than ten years (date is 01OCT09 on the chart above). Likewise, if you seek a family-based visa in the F2A category, there is no waiting period. But if you are applying from any other category and are from Mexico, you can expect a wait of more than 20 years!

Please note, this guide is informational only and that the dates indicated above are current as to the date this article is written (September 2020). These dates change monthly. 

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Still, Have Questions?

Do you have questions, or are you still confused? That is understandable! U.S. immigration law is too complex. Luckily, an experienced immigration attorney can help you understand the Visa Bulletin and assist you every step of the way during the visa application process. 

Want to have the best experience in understanding the visa bulletin? Contact Brudner Law today to find out more!