Understanding the State Department's Monthly Visa Bulletin

The Department of State’s monthly Visa Bulletin can be difficult to understand.  All those dates and charts and categories are confusing.  But knowing how to read the Visa Bulletin is important if you are seeking permanent residence in the United States so you can understand how long you will have to wait before you finally have your green card.  The explanation below is specifically for individuals going through the permanent residence process based on employment

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the US government allocates a certain number of green cards each year for family, employment, and the diversity visa.  Because the demand in most categories far exceeds the number of green cards available each year, there are backlogs.

For employment-based green cards (“immigrant visas”), the number of immigrant visas available each fiscal year is 140,000The fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30.  On October 1 each year, the immigrant visa numbers are replenished.


Of the 140,000 employment-based green cards, the first three employment-based categories ("EB-1", "EB-2" and "EB-3") get about 40,040 immigrant visas each per year with a 7% cap for nationals of any one country per category.  This means a maximum of 2,803 visas are available to nationals of a single country per category. This also explains the backlog for Chinese and Indian nationals for all three employment-based categories.  

A foreign national who has been sponsored for permanent residence by his or her employer gets a place in line for an immigrant visa called a "priority date."  The priority date is based on the date the PERM application was filed with the Department of Labor, and is locked in once both the PERM and I-140 are approved.  

Every month, the Department of State releases a Visa Bulletin, which lists the priority dates for each employment-based category (along with all the other categories for permanent residence, such as family, investment, diversity visa lottery, etc.) for the upcoming month.  If a foreign national's priority date is before the date for his or her category on the visa bulletin that month then s/he can apply for permanent residence. 

The October Visa Bulletin is particularly important because it sets the tone for the year ahead.  Please see our September 14, 2018 blogpost on the October 2018 Visa Bulletin.   The August and September Visa Bulletins often have discouraging priority dates because they are the last two months of the fiscal year and the backlogs are the worst.

When reviewing the Visa Bulletin, you will notice there are two charts for the employment- and family-based priority dates in the Visa Bulletin.  The first is a "Final Action Date" chart.  These are the dates for cases USCIS is actually adjudicating to completion and the more relevant one.  The second is the “Dates for Filing” chart.  These dates are usually later than the dates in the Final Action Chart.  If USCIS is willing to accept more applications than they are actually completing in a particular month, then it will announce on its website to use the Dates for Filing chart.  The benefit here is you can get the process going sooner and, if you are in the United States, you can obtain the interim work and travel permission sooner.  USCIS usually makes its decision on which dates it will use in that month a few days after the Visa Bulletin is released.  

Each month we write a blog post on the latest visa bulletin and dates so you have the most up-to-date information.  Please stay tuned.

The process for obtaining permanent residence in the United States is generally long and challenging, but the end result is extremely satisfying.  

 This alert is for informational purposes only.  Should you wish to discuss this matter further, please contact us.