What is the Visa Bulletin? The U.S. Department of State publishes the “Visa Bulletin” every month (http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin.html). The Visa Bulletin sets forth per-country, per-category priority date cutoffs for permanent residence applicants (aka Green Card applicants). Such applicants can only file for the final step of the Green Card process if their immigrant category is “Current.” The U.S. Department of State reviews and adjusts these numbers monthly, up or down, as follows. For many applicants, the Visa Bulletin is synonymous with frustrating long waits. The March 2015 Visa Bulletin offers a little bit of sunshine just in time for spring.

How it works? The Visa Bulletin sets both family-based and employment-based visa numbers in accordance with Sections 201 and 202 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”). Family-sponsored immigrant numbers are limited to 226,000 per year. INA Section 201 also provides for at least 140,000 employment-based immigrant applications per year. Section 202 prescribes that the per-country limit for preference immigrants is set at 7% of the total annual family-sponsored and employment-based preference limits, i.e., 25,620. The dependent area limit is set at 2%, or 7,320. 

Family-Based Immigrant Categories. The family-based categories are established by the degree of familial relationship with the sponsor, a U.S. Citizen or legal permanent resident (“Permanent resident”). F1 is for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. Citizens that are under 21 years of age; F-2A is for spouses and children of Permanent Residents; F-2B is for unmarried sons and daughters of Permanent Residents; F-3 is for married sons and daughters of U.S. Citizens; and F-4 is for brothers and sisters of adult U.S. Citizens.

Employment-Based Immigrant Categories. The employment-based categories are based on the skill level of the applicant or other special criteria. EB-1 is the category for priority workers, defined as individuals with extraordinary ability (e.g. Pulitzer Prize winner), outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers and executives; EB-2 is for members of the professions holding advanced degrees (masters, doctorates, etc.) or persons of exceptional ability (e.g. physicians); EB-3 is for skilled workers, professionals and some unskilled workers; EB-4 is reserved for certain special immigrants such as religious workers, broadcasters, Iraqi/Afghan translators, Iraqis who have assisted the United States, international organization employees, physicians, Armed Forces members, Panama Canal zone employees, retired NATO-6 employees, and spouses and children of deceased NATO-6 employees; and EB-5 is limited to individuals who can create jobs, i.e. business owners and investors.  

Mismatched Supply and Demand. These visa numbers do not match the demand for immigrant visas, particularly from natives of China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines. The system continues to be backed up. For example, the unmarried son (under 21 years of age) of a legal permanent resident from Mexico (F1 category) is only able to file for adjustment of status or consular processing this month if he or she received an approved immigrant petition on or before October 22, 1994 – a backlog of over 20 years! See Visa Bulletin Table.

Similarly, an Indian physician (EB-2 category) is only able to file for adjustment of status or consular processing this month if he or she received an approved immigrant petition on or before January 01, 2007 – a backlog of over 7 years! See Visa Bulletin Table.

A Little Bit of Sunshine, March 2015. The March 2015 Visa Bulletin shows encouraging advancement for several immigrant categories. The EB-3 general category advanced by over 5 months between February and March 2015. EB-2 India advanced by 16 months during the same period. EB-2 China advanced by nearly 6 months and EB-3 China by 7 weeks. Additionally, the EB-1 category remains current for all countries and EB-2 remains current as well, except for natives of China and India. This latter trend reflects high demand from advanced degree professionals such as physicians and PhDs from these two countries. Although these trends appear promising, immigrants know better than to rejoice for the long-term. The visa quotas remain largely under par in light of the demand. As soon as applicants in the above categories start sending in their applications, retrogression (i.e. the rolling back of the cut-off dates) will likely take place. But for now, spring is in the air and the sun is shining…