Last week,  Charles Oppenheim, the man behind the mysterious Visa Bulletin curtain, also known as Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the Department of State,  made some significant predictions regarding priority date movement in the coming months.

 The best news came for Indian and Chinese nationals in the EB-2 category. For these individuals, Mr. Oppenheim predicted  that priority dates  would be advanced “significantly” over the next few visa bulletins. He indicated that “significantly” could mean a four month jump to March 1, 2008 for the December bulletin, and that this trend could continue into the January and February 2012 bulletins.  He also predicted that EB-2 for the Rest of the World (ROW) category will remain current throughout 2012.

The worst news came for Indian nationals in the EB-3 category. Mr. Oppenheim  predicted that the category will remain stagnant throughout the year. This is due to the per country limitations placed on each visa category, which for Indians in EB-3 amounts to only 3000 green cards per year. The queue in this category is estimated at 210,000, thus making a 70 year wait, “plausible” according to Oppenheim.  There is  some hope on the horizon for persons in EB-3 due to pending legislation, which would eliminate the per country limitation. See my previous blog on this topic for more information.

Although the news is not as bad for Chinese nationals in EB-3,- a steady advancement of one to three weeks per month for the next several months - it still means long waits for visa numbers for applicants in this category.  The wait may be shorter for those EB-3 applicants in the ROW category, as Oppenheim predicts a 3-4 week movement per month for the next several months. The chart below demonstrates what these advancements might look like over the next seven months. Please note that this is only a prediction, but may help applicants prepare their finances, travel plans and documentation for possible filing of adjustment of status applications.

 Click here to view table

Number crunching by the Visa Office is a difficult business. As explained by Oppenheim, it is a guessing game for several reasons; (1) it is impossible to identify the exact number of people in the queue because the number of spouses and  minor children  who will be counted against the visa numbers are unknown until they actually apply for a visa number. This has been especially the case in EB-3, as the long waits have increased, applicants’ families have grown. (2) Visa numbers are not actually requested until the end of the green card application process, leaving a 6 month lag time between priority date movement and actual visa allocation by the State Department. This problem is what often leads to the retrogression in the priority dates.

Oppenheim stated that retrogression of EB-2 for India and China is a good possibility in the Summer of 2012, due to the inexact science of visa number usage estimation.   Oppenheim’s  theory is that he will advance the numbers significantly in the early part of the Fiscal Year, develop a queue for visa numbers, hold the dates steady from  March 2012-June 2012,  to allow USCIS to catch up with visa allocation then retrogress in June 2012 or later if necessary.  Even though retrogression is unnerving to those affected by it, it is a better result than having precious visa numbers unused and then lost forever if they are not allocated before 9/30/2012.  Based upon this timeline, it is possible that there could be additional EB-2 movement in September 2012 to ensure that all of the numbers are used before the fiscal year ends on September 30, 2012.

With the possibility of retrogression, it is important to get I-485 applications filed in the first month of visa availability.

Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we have been fooled before by the Visa Office, so there is no use in getting too excited by the good news, as it means that certain applicants will be able to file their green card applications earlier than they might have previously thought. But for those Indian nationals in EB-3 who have been debating whether to do the necessary to refile in EB-2, this confirms their worst fears, and suggests that all steps necessary to get in to EB-2  be initiated, the sooner the better.