Every month, the US State Department publishes the Visa Bulletin, an online publication that summarizes the availability of US green cards. The Visa Bulletin indicates when green cards subject to statutory quotas are available for issuance to prospective immigrants based on the type of green card being pursued, the alien’s country of birth and the alien’s “priority date” (the date that a permanent labor certification application or an immigrant petition was filed on the alien’s behalf).

On September 9, 2015, the State Department announced new procedures for determining green card availability.  These new procedures go into effect on October 1, 2015. The Visa Bulletin will now include two critical dates: a “filing date,” which determines when individuals may file their green card applications, and a “final action” date, which reflects when the USCIS or a consulate may make a decision on the applications. This change will allow aliens to file green card applications (including applications for Employment Authorization Documents or “EADs”) earlier than before, although it will not expedite the actual issuance of their green cards which is based on quotas established by law.  For more information about this development, please see the USCIS website.

For example, the October 2015 Visa Bulletin’s “Application Final Action Dates for Employment-based Preference Cases” shows that a decision to approve a green card may be made in October to an Indian-born advanced degree professional with an employment-based second preference priority/filing date of May 1, 2005.  That same Bulletin shows that the USCIS will accept applications to adjust status to permanent resident (I-485) for this same type of individual, but with a priority date of July 1, 2011.

This is a very significant change that is likely to benefit many.  This change will allow many employment-based immigrants and their accompanying family members to obtain EAD and advance parole (AP) international travel authorization card many years sooner.  Allowing spouses and children to work is an important benefit for many families.  This change will also give employers the option to rely on the EAD/AP card to employ the foreign professional without the cost and recordkeeping required to extend their nonimmigrant visa status, which represents a significant cost savings.

Last, and most certainly not least, this change will impact the ability of immigrant workers to change jobs faster and with greater ease.  In general, most employers and immigrant workers must intend to do the job originally designated when the employer originally applied to the Department of Labor for the alien employment certification. This limits the ability of employers and immigrants to make career changes, both with the same employer (e.g., promotions, demotions, change of job site) and for a change of employer (e.g., layoffs, mergers and acquisitions, new job opportunities).  Back in 2000, US law was changed to allow immigrant workers to continue to immigrate notwithstanding such a change, but only if certain requirements are met.  A key requirement is that the I-485 must be pending for at 180 days or more (additional details are available from the USCIS).

This change in how the US government uses the Visa Bulletin will make it much easier for immigrant workers to change jobs faster, giving them greater security.  It will likely have a detrimental impact on US employers seeking to retain these workers, while at the same time aiding US employers seeking to recruit these workers.  The result will somewhat change the dynamic between US employers and immigrant workers.