The Visa Bulletin – What You Need to Know and How to Understand Priority Dates When Filing Immigration Petitions for Your Relatives

The Visa Bulletin – What You Need to Know and How to Understand Priority Dates When Filing Immigration Petitions for Your Relatives By Laraine SchwartzCurrently the United States has a complex system in place to control our rate of permanent legal immigration. Even before we implement Comprehensive Immigration Reform (ever the optimist), for many years there have been annual limits on the total number of immigrants processed, as well as allotments per visa category and country. Congress determines the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. for each category and country. Most categories have annual limits, with a few exceptions.

For example, there are no numerical limits in the Immediate Relative category that includes the parents, spouse and minor, unmarried children of U.S. citizens. 

Eligibility is based on the date that a petition is filed and thus initiated. A backlog exists, so the latest filing date being processed is referred to as the Visa Priority Date.

The Immediate Relatives are not listed on the Visa Bulletin because there is an immediate visa available (hence the name).

The Visa Bulletin is a document which lists the availability of immigrant visa numbers every month. If you have filed a visa for a relative, this Bulletin can serve as your timetable. The most recent Bulletin can be found here and is updated each month on our website under News.

The Bulletin is comprehensive and includes the allotted numbers for each family-sponsored category (as well as employment-based categories, which is a topic for a future blog). In effect, it shows the backlog in each immigrant visa category in any given month.

The Visa Bulletin specifies the current date that is presently being processed for each of the different family visas.

  • The “Current Date” is the same as the “Filing Date” of the original petition.
  • If an applicant’s filing date is before the listed priority date in the Bulletin, then that immigrant visa number is available and the petitioner may proceed with the processing of the petition.
  • If the applicant’s filing date is after the current date listed, then the petitioner must wait until their filing date is the same as or after the priority date listed.

Due to large numbers of foreign nationals from India, China, Mexico and the Philippines wanting to immigrate to the United States, these four countries are often more backlogged than others. Therefore, the Visa Bulletin lists the priority dates for these nations separately.

If you or a family member have petitioned for legal permanent residence for a relative and are having trouble understanding the Visa Bulletin and how to use it, I urge you to consult with an immigration attorney for advice concerning your current status.

Larraine Schwartz, Lobbying for Immigration Reform

Laraine E. Schwartz, Esq.
Winograd and Schwartz Attorneys at Law, PC

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