Posted on November 16th, 2015 by Brian Sather

If you are researching the Visa Bulletin, you (or someone you know) probably have learned that you cannot become a U.S. permanent resident quite yet, even though you are the beneficiary of an approved immigrant visa petition (a Form I-130 or I-140). This post tells you what you need to know about the Visa Bulletin (which we’ll call the “Bulletin”).

Understand These First

Before plunging in to the explanation of the Bulletin, a few things must be noted.

First, if your understanding is that your petition is at the National Visa Center (“NVC”), you should contact them to confirm both that the petition remains there (and USCIS has not recalled it) and that the petition has not be terminated or queued for termination. Then, you should initiate a program of regular communication with the NVC as necessary to prevent termination throughout the years until you get your visa, and retain proof of this communication – this is very easy to do, but it can be very hard to recover from not doing it).

Also, whether or not your petition is at the NVC, you might be to obtain permanent resident status (signified by a “green card”) sooner than the Bulletin would indicate, either by changing the underlying visa petition or by pursuing an alternative petition. On the other hand, in certain circumstances it is possible to take a step that slows one’s progress toward permanent residence, or even permanently ends it: namely, getting married.

Consult with an immigration attorney about any of those issues, and also about ensuring that you are prepared to take advantage of the opportunity once the Bulletin finally shows that you are ready to apply for permanent resident status. In many cases, getting the petition approved is the easy part. Putting the petition to use – by applying for permanent resident status – can be far more challenging.

You Need a Visa Number

The Visa Bulletin is a publication of the U.S. Department of State. The Bulletin tracks the ever-changing availability of “visa numbers.” Before one can become a permanent resident, a visa number must available to him or her. A visa number is always available to beneficiaries of certain categories of petition, including (but not limited to) petitions filed by U.S. citizens for their parent, spouse, or minor child. Almost everyone else must wait, keeping an eye on the Bulletin. (The Dept. of State comes out with a new Bulletin each month, posting it on their website, where you can subscribe to have the new Bulletin emailed to you each month.)

Measured distribution of visa numbers is a way for the government to control the flow of immigration. Every year, they allocate a certain quantity of visa numbers to each category of immigrant, such as, just for example, “Spouses of Permanent Residents”, or “Skilled Workers”. If that number of visas is issued before the end of the year, then nobody else in that category can become a permanent resident until the next year. The supply of visas is often insufficient to meet the demand. Consequently, a backlog, or waiting list, develops in certain categories from time to time.

Why the Visa Bulletin Matters to You

The Bulletin tells beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions when they can secure permanent resident status. This determination is based on three factors: the category of relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary, the date on which the petition (I-130 or I-140) or labor certification (“LC”) application was filed (called the “priority date”), and the country in which the beneficiary was born.

The Key to the Bulletin

The most important information in the Bulletin is presented in tables, including one for family-based immigrants and one for employment-based immigrants. The key to making sense of the Visa Bulletin is this: the date on the current Bulletin that corresponds with the appropriate country column and the applicable category row is the current relevant “priority date.” The current priority date is the date by which the petition (or LC application) must have been filed in order for a visa number to be available to the beneficiary. If the petition or LC application was filed on or before the current priority date, then the beneficiary’s application for permanent residence or an immigrant visa can be approved. Otherwise, the beneficiary must wait – wait until their priority date becomes current. (If a “C” appears in your box instead of a date, congratulations: at the moment you face no backlog – a visa number is available to you right now.)

(An Illustration. Consider the November 2015 Bulletin, which you can find here. Scroll down a bit to the first table (which is underneath the heading “Application Final Action Dates for Family-Sponsored Preference Cases”). This table tells you that, in November 2015, you could become a permanent resident if you were the Mexico-born beneficiary of an F4 petition (that is, an I-130 petition filed by your U.S. citizen sibling) that was filed on or before April 1, 1997. You know this because that date appears where the “F4” category row meets the “Mexico” country column.)

Following the Bulletin

The dates in the Bulletin table usually progress each month. For example, if this month a certain date is August 4, 2009, we usually can expect that the date next month will have progressed to September 4, 2009. Often, however, a date will remain frozen for months in a row. And sometimes a date will even “retrogress,” or move backwards. The fluctuation of these dates is mainly a function of supply and demand. (The “supply” is the quantity of visa numbers allocated by the government; the “demand” is the government’s projection of the number of would-be immigrants worldwide.)

The long-term direction and rate of change of the dates usually cannot be predicted with much confidence. However, the Bulletin is the only available source that can give us a useful general idea of how long the beneficiary of an approved petition will have to wait before becoming a permanent resident. (Again, you can subscribe to have the Bulletin emailed to you each month: send an email to [email protected], with the following words (and only the following words) in the message body: Subscribe Visa-Bulletin )

Turning Your Approved Petition Into Permanent Resident Status

United States immigration law is infamous for its extreme complexity. Moreover, the U.S. agencies that administer immigration law tend to be especially unforgiving, as well as obtuse, arbitrary, internally inconsistent, and very highly error-prone. For most people, their immigration case is of great, and even profound, importance to them, their families, and their future. Given those high stakes, talented lawyers who limit their practice to U.S. immigration law are invaluable to people (and employers) who must operate in this complex legal context and this inhospitable governmental environment.

You can contact the lawyers at Immigration Attorneys, LLP for consult about the issues raised at the beginning of this post, and to help make sure that you are well-prepared to take advantage of the opportunity once the Visa Bulletin finally shows that you are ready to apply for permanent resident status. Again, in many cases, getting the petition approved is the easy part. Putting the petition to use – by applying for permanent resident status – can be far more challenging. There are many reasons for this, ranging from infirmities hidden in the petition or questions about adjustment eligibility, to bureaucratic error, complications relating to the immigrant’s spouse or children, or any of the dozens of grounds of inadmissibility that raise obstacles in the path to permanent resident status, many of which can often be overcome, but only through application of the right strategy.

U.S. immigration is governed by federal law, not state law, so your choice of lawyers is not limited to those in your state. Any of the lawyers at Immigration Attorneys, LLP, can work with you, wherever you are in the country or the world. Contact us to arrange a consultation. We can meet with you at our offices in Chicago, Tampa, Milwaukee, or Phoenix. If those locations are not convenient, consultations also are offered by phone, video chat, or email (or a combination thereof, as it is often useful to email (or fax) certain documents to us in preparation for the consultation). Wherever or however we consult with you, we will do our best to provide you with the peace of mind that comes from a clear understanding of both your current situation and the steps you can take to preserve and even strengthen your opportunity for U.S. permanent resident status. If the circumstances warrant it, we also will explain to you the additional services that we can offer to you, whether in the near future or at some point further down the path.