Despite the fact that parts of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration currently are being challenged in court, the administration is moving forward with its promise to modernize our antiquated immigration system.

Specifically, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) announced yesterday that it was working with the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to overhaul the procedures for determining visa availability for adjustment of status applicants waiting to file under either the employment-based or family-sponsored categories. The revamped procedures will more closely mirror current DOS procedures for foreign nationals who seek to become U.S. permanent residents by applying for immigrant visas abroad.

As part of the changes announced,  beginning with the Visa Bulletin for October 2015, DOS will post two charts per visa preference category as follows:

  • Application Final Action Dates (dates when immigrant visas may finally be issued); and
  • Dates for Filing Applications (earliest possible dates when applicants may be able to apply).

Similarly, USCIS will monitor visa numbers and post the latest Visa Bulletin charts for the Dates for Filing Adjustment of Status Applications on its  own website. Applicants can use these charts to determine whether they are eligible to file for adjustment of status.

It is expected that the revamped procedures will assist DOS to more accurately predict overall immigrant visa demand and determine the cut-off dates for visa issuance published in the Visa Bulletin. This in turn is presumed to ensure that the maximum number of immigrant visas are issued annually as mandated by Congress, and minimize monthly fluctuations on final action dates.

As way of background, Congress sets the limits on the number of immigrant visas issued each year. In order to adjust to a legal permanent resident (LPR), an immigrant visa must be available to the adjustment applicant at the time of filing the petition and at the time of adjudication. DOS publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin that sets forth whether a visa is available (that is “C” for current), or not available (that is “U” for unavailable). In some instances, it will list a date that indicates the date of the petitions currently being adjudicated.

Generally, the dates on the monthly Visa Bulletin move forward in time. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes the dates move backwards in time (or retrogress) when more people apply for a visa in a particular category or country than there are visas available for that month. Retrogression usually occurs towards the end of the fiscal year as visas approach the per-country limitations. It is not until the new fiscal year begins (October 1) that a new visa supply is made available. The new supply of visa usually results in the dates on the Visa Bulletin returning to where they were before retrogression occurred, but that is not always the case.