Immigration Topics Explained:

How the Visa Bulletin Works

Immediate relatives (spouses, parents and unmarried children under age 21 of U.S. citizens) have an unlimited number of immigrant visas (green cards) available. But most other family-based immigrant visas have a wait. The U.S. Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin that lets you know when it’s time to claim your green card. Here's how the visa bulletin works:

U.S. Department of State Visa Bulletin Explained

What is the visa bulletin?

The family-based immigration process starts with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on behalf of a foreign family member. 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 USCIS has confirmed you have a qualifying relationship and you’ve established your place in line for a visa. The visa bulletin tells you when the visa is actually available to use.

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

Where do I find my priority date?

The numerical limit for family preference immigrant visas creates a wait list. The beneficiary’s “place in line” is designated with a priority date. The filing date of the I-130 petition becomes the beneficiary'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 Receipt Notice) that USCIS mails after they received Form I-130 for processing. Alternatively, you may use the Approval Notice that USCIS sends after approving the petition. The priority date is in the top section of the document. In the example below, a red circle identifies the priority date.

I-130 approval notice with priority date to lookup visa bulletin

Determine Your Family Preference Category

What are the visa bulletin categories?

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 petitioner is either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member. Determining your family preference category is fairly easy. View the list 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

  • F2A family preference categories for spouse and children of LPR

    Spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) of permanent residents

  • how the visa bulletin works for 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

If you don't see your relationship type above, you may be an immediate relative. Immediate relatives include the spouse, parent, or unmarried child (under age 21) of U.S. citizens. There is no annual limit on the number of immigrant visas issued to immediate relatives each year. Thus, there is no wait, and they are not included on the visa bulletin. Immediate relatives can move forward with the application.

Read the Visa Bulletin

Which visa bulletin chart do I use?

Once you know your priority date and your preference category, proceed to the U.S. State Department's website to find the 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.” An immigrant visa is actually available if a priority date comes before the date listed in this chart.

Sample Chart for Final Action Dates
Family-SponsoredAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedCHINA-mainland bornINDIAMEXICOPHILIPPINES
Family-SponsoredAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedCHINA-mainland born


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.)

Sample Chart for Filing Dates
Family-SponsoredAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedCHINA-mainland bornINDIAMEXICOPHILIPPINES
Family-SponsoredAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedCHINA-mainland born

When the priority date is current and the I-130 is approved, beneficiaries may generally proceed with the immigrant visa application. Again, individuals in the United States through a lawful entry may be able to adjust status. If eligible, the beneficiary may initiate the application by filing the adjustment of status application package with USCIS. However, any individual outside the United States will need to apply via consular processing. The National Visa Center will contact the beneficiary when they are ready. Learn how to apply.

Visa Bulletin Examples

Do you have examples of how the visa bulletin works?

Example: Felipe (F2A)
Felipe is a citizen of Brazil, and he is the spouse of a U.S. permanent resident. This relationship type puts Felipe in the F2A category. He has an approved I-130 petition with a priority date of July 15, 2022. In the example bulletin above, Felipe’s priority date is already "C" for current. 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 December 10, 2010. In the example bulletin above, Ravi’s priority date is after November 8, 2009 (08NOV09). 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 January 20, 2015. In the example bulletin above, Jennifer’s priority date is before April 22, 2015 (22APR15). Therefore, Jennifer’s immigrant visa is current, and she may apply for a green card.

Visa Retrogression

Why is the visa bulletin not moving?

Sometimes the priority dates on a visa bulletin don't change from the previous month. Worse yet, sometimes the dates can actually move the wrong way. This is called 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.

Where to Check Visa Bulletin

How do I get monthly updates?

Now that you understand how the visa bulletin works, you'll need to monitor it on a regular basis. The U.S. Department of State publishes a monthly bulletin for employment-based and diversity visa categories as well. Book mark the State Department website below.


Apply for a Green Card

My priority date is current. What's the next step?

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.

In fact, the National Visa Center will contact the petitioner and beneficiary shortly before the visa becomes available. They'll ask you to submit the immigrant fee, apply for the immigrant visa, submit Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support), and attend a medical exam. Once they obtained these additional documents, the NVC can transfer your case to the U.S. embassy or consulate for an interview.

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 from nonimmigrant status to permanent residence (green card holder). U.S. immigration law allows nonimmigrants to adjust status if the individual lawfully entered the U.S. and meets certain requirements.

Only a very limited group of people can adjust status. The most common scenarios include immediate relatives, individuals who entered with a K-1 visa 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.


Your immigrant visa will be available to claim for one year. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 203(g) provides that the Secretary of State shall terminate the registration (petition) of any foreign national who fails to apply for an immigrant visa within one year of notice of visa availability. The Department of State may reinstate the petition if, within two years of notice of visa availability, the foreign national establishes that the failure to apply was for reasons beyond the their control. Therefore, if you do not respond to notices from the NVC within one year, you risk termination of your petition under this section of law and would lose the benefits of that petition, such as your priority date.

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. Rejections and denials delay the process and can cost you money. 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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