As the U.S. government begins its new fiscal year on October 1, 2016, the recently published October 2016 visa bulletin brings welcome news for many employees who are patiently waiting for their priority dates to become current in order to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

The U.S. Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin that contains cut-off dates for filing adjustment of status applications based on a foreign national’s country of chargeability and his or her immigrant visa preference category. In order to file an application for immigrant visa processing or to adjust status to permanent residence in an employment-based category, an employee’s priority date (which generally is the filing date of his or her permanent labor certification application (PERM) or immigrant visa petition—whichever is filed earlier) must be earlier than the final action date or “current.” A priority date is “current” if all qualified applicants are authorized to apply, regardless of his or her priority date. Once an employee’s priority date becomes “current” or earlier than the final action date, the employee can immediately apply for his or her green card to become a lawful permanent resident.

New visa numbers will become available with the start of the new fiscal year, which usually leads to noticeable advancements in final action dates for the various employment-based preference categories:

EB-1. Although there was a brief imposition of a final action date for China and India at the end of fiscal year 2016, the first-priority employment-based preference category (EB-1) has returned to current for all countries in October of 2016. While this category is likely to see high usage over the next month, the EB-1 category is nonetheless expected to remain current for all countries for the foreseeable future.

EB-2. The second-priority employment-based preference category (EB-2) has become current again in October of 2016 for all countries except China and India, and the State Department projects that the category will remain current for those countries throughout the first half of the fiscal year. While the EB-2 category has been lagging behind the third-priority category in recent months, this is no longer the case for any chargeability areas except China. The final action date for EB-2 petitions charged to India has progressed forward by nearly two years—from February 22, 2005 to January 15, 2007—and is more recent than EB-3 India’s final action date of March 1, 2005. While EB-2 China’s final action date has also progressed forward by approximately two years from January 1, 2010 to February 15, 2012, it nonetheless remains approximately one year behind EB-3 China’s final action date of January 22, 2013. Based on this, employees who were born in China and currently have an approved EB-2 I-140 petition may want to consider downgrading to the EB-3 category in order to potentially apply for their green cards sooner.

EB-3. The third-priority employment-based preference category (EB-3) also benefitted from overall forward momentum in October of 2016. The final action dates for EB-3 petitions charged to China have jumped ahead by three years from January 1, 2010 to January 22, 2013. The Philippines has also seen significant forward movement by five months—from July 1, 2010 to December 1, 2010. There is slower forward movement for EB-3 India, which has progressed in October by only 14 days, from February 15, 2005 to March 1, 2005. The State Department projects that the final action dates for EB-3 India will continue to advance slowly over the next few months. The priority dates for all other countries have moved forward by one month from May 1, 2016 to June 1, 2016.

The complete October 2016 Visa Bulletin and Final Action dates can be accessed on the U.S. Department of State’s website.