Visa stamp and How to Read the Visa Bulletin

How to Read the Visa Bulletin


How to Read the Visa Bulletin

If you have a family member that has filed an I-130 immigrant petition on your behalf, you may need to learn how to read the visa bulletin. Immediate relatives (spouses, parents and unmarried children under age 21 of U.S. citizens) have an unlimited number of visas available. But just about everybody else has to wait.

The U.S. Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin. The visa bulletin lets you know when it’s time to claim your green card.

Why There's a Visa Bulletin

Because the number of intending immigrants generally exceeds the available immigrant visas, there is virtually always a wait for family preference categories. In this situation, the Department of State issues immigrant visas (green cards) in a first-come, first-serve manner for each category.

If you are in a family preference category, it’s important to understand that an approved I-130 petition does not mean you may come to the United States. The approved I-130 petition means that you’ve established your place in line for a visa, but it is not yet available.

In fact, it is the priority date that specifies your specific place in line. You have reached the front of the line when your priority date becomes "current." The U.S. Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin that lists the priority dates which have become current. In other words, these are the priority dates that now have an immigrant visa available to be claimed. You must review the U.S. Department of State’s visa bulletin to determine if your immigrant petition is current. When an immigrant petition is current, you can apply for a green card.

To read the visa bulletin, you’ll need to know two things:
Priority Date

Your Priority Date is the date that your immigrant petition was filed and represents your "place in line."

Show Me How to Find It
Family Preference Category

Your Family-Preference category is the type of relationship you have with the petitioner according to USCIS.

Show Me How to Find It

Determine Your Priority Date

The numerical limit for family preference immigrant visas creates a wait list. The applicant’s “place in line” is designated with a priority date. The filing date of the I-130 petition becomes the applicant's priority date. When USCIS accepts Form I-130, they will also assign a priority date.

Locating your priority date is fairly easy. Review the I-797 Notice of Action (I-130 Approval Notice) that was provided when the I-130 petition was approved. The priority date is in the top section of the document. In the example below, a red circle identifies the priority date.

how to read the visa bulletin with your i-130 approval notice

Determine Your Family Preference Category

Your family preference category is based on your relationship with the petitioner. Different relationships are given different priority for an immigrant visa. If an I-130 petition was filed on your behalf, the petition is either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member. Determining your family preference category is fairly easy. Use the chart below to determine your preference category.
  • F1 visa category on visa bulletin

    Unmarried, adult sons and daughters (age 21 or over) of U.S. citizens

  • how to read visa bulletin F2A visa category

    Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of permanent residents

  • how to read visa bulletin F2B visa category

    Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents

  • F3 family preference category

    Married sons and daughters (any age) of U.S. citizens

  • F4 family preference category

    Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens

Now, with your priority date and family preference category, we can show you how to read the visa bulletin.

How to Read the Visa Bulletin

Once you know your priority date and your preference category, proceed to the U.S. State Department's monthly visa bulletin. Select the "Current Visa Bulletin." Forward to "Family-Sponsored Preferences" to see a table similar to the sample below. Find your family preference category and compare your priority date to the date listed. If your priority date comes before the date listed, your immigrant visa is current.

Most people can view the column labeled “All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed.” But if your country of nationality is China, India, Mexico or Philippines, use the respective column for those dates. Now you know how to read the visa bulletin.

The first chart is for “final action dates.” A visa number is actually available if a priority date comes before the date listed in this chart.

Family-SponsoredAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedCHINA-mainland bornINDIAMEXICOPHILIPPINES

This second chart indicates when the intending immigrant can apply for an immigrant visa. Specifically, the applicant may file an adjustment of status application provided that the applicant’s priority date is before the date listed in the visa bulletin’s filing dates chart. If the intending immigrant will be applying through the consular process, the National Visa Center uses this chart to start the process. (They will notify the intending immigrant when to submit an application for an immigrant visa.)

Family-SponsoredAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedCHINA-mainland bornINDIAMEXICOPHILIPPINES
Example: Felipe (F2A)
Felipe is a citizen of Brazil, and he is the spouse of a U.S. permanent resident. So Felipe is in the F2A category. He has an approved I-130 petition with a priority date of January 29, 2014. In the example bulletin above, Felipe’s priority date is before March 22, 2015 (22MAR15). Therefore, Felipe’s immigrant visa is current, and he may apply for a green card.
Example: Ravi (F3)
Ravi is a citizen of India, and he is the married, adult son of a U.S. citizen. Therefore, Ravi is in the F3 category. He has an approved I-130 petition with a priority date of June 15, 2007. In the example bulletin above, Ravi’s priority date is after March 1, 205 (01MAR05). Therefore, Ravi’s immigrant visa is not yet current, and he may not apply for a green card yet.
Example: Jennifer (F1)
Jennifer is a citizen of the Philippines, and she is the unmarried, adult daughter of a U.S. citizen. Therefore, Jennifer is in the F1 category. She has an approved I-130 petition with a priority date of September 20, 2005. In the example bulletin above, Jennifer’s priority date is before October 1, 2005 (01OCT05). Therefore, Jennifer’s immigrant visa is current, and she may apply for a green card.

Visa Retrogression

Generally, the cut-off dates on the visa bulletin move forward in time. But sometimes they go backwards. Visa retrogression occurs when more people apply for a visa in a particular category or country than there are visas available for that month. Retrogression typically occurs toward the end of the fiscal year as visa issuance approaches the annual category, or per-country limitations. Sometimes a priority date that meets the cut-off date one month will not meet the cut-off date the next month. When the new fiscal year begins on October 1, a new supply of visas is made available and usually, but not always, returns the dates to where they were before retrogression.

Apply for a Green Card

If your I-130 petition is now current, you may apply for permanent residence (green card) in the United States. There are two basic ways to apply for your green card: consular processing or adjustment of status.
Consular Processing
If you are currently outside the United States, the only path for immigrating to the U.S. is consular processing. Consular processing refers to the process of applying for an immigrant visa (green card) through the U.S. embassy or consular office in a foreign country. Consular processing is the most common path to obtain a green card. Learn more about consular processing.
Adjustment of Status

If you are currently inside the United States, you may be able to adjust status. Adjustment of status is the term used to describe a change in U.S. immigration status to permanent residence (green card holder). U.S. immigration law allows a temporary visitor (e.g. student, tourist, etc.) to change status to a permanent resident if the individual lawfully entered the United States and meets certain requirements. The temporary visitor must be in the United States after being lawfully inspected and admitted or paroled.

Only a very limited group of people can adjust status. The most common scenarios include K-1 fiancés that came to the U.S. and married a U.S. citizen, asylees, refugees, or those who arrived on an employment visa (e.g. H-1B) and the employer sponsored them for a green card. All green card applicants that don’t qualify for adjustment of status must use the consular processing path. Learn more about adjustment of status.

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Use Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) to start the immigration process for a family member. Each year, USCIS rejects or denies thousands of I-130 petitions. Therefore, it's important to get it right.
each year an average of
I-130 petitions are filed*
out of these
get rejected*
and another
get denied*

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