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New & Improved Visa Bulletin Allows Filing of I-485 Before Priority Date is Current

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced that, together with the U.S. Department of State (“DOS”), it is revising the procedures for determining when an application for adjustment of status may be filed, thus implementing part of President Obama’s November 2014 executive actions on immigration.

This revised visa bulletin was envisioned by the White House in its July 2015 report on “Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century.”  One of the President’s recommendations in that report involved revising the monthly Visa Bulletin “to better estimate immigrant visa availability for prospective applicants.”  The revised process will enhance DOS’s ability to more accurately predict overall visa demand and determine the cutoff dates for visa issuance published in the Visa Bulletin.  This will help ensure that the maximum number of immigrant visas are issued annually.

As background, the Visa Bulletin is issued by the State Department monthly and determines when an immigrant visa (green card) becomes available for a particular individual based on their preference category, country of birth, and priority date.  The wait time for an immigrant visa depends on annual limits set by Congress for each preference category and the number of other applicants applying in the same category. Once an immigrant visa becomes available for a person (i.e., their priority date becomes “current”), as determined by the Visa Bulletin, that person can seek adjustment of status if in the U.S. or apply for the immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.  The priority date is generally the date when the applicant’s relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition or labor certification on the applicant’s behalf with USCIS or the Department of Labor (for labor certifications).

Starting with the October 2015 Visa Bulletin, there are now two important dates listed on the monthly Visa Bulletin: the “filing date,” which determines when individuals can submit their applications for permanent resident status, and the “application final action” date, which indicates when DOS or USCIS can make a decision on the applications.  The “filing” cutoff date is much earlier than the usual cutoff date in previous Visa Bulletins, and will allow the adjustment of status application to be filed, including applications for Employment Authorization and Advance Parole (travel).

For India and China Employment-Based categories (EB-2 and EB-3), the “filing” cutoff dates are expected to be a year or more earlier than the current “final action” cutoff dates, allowing individuals in these categories who have not been able to file adjustment of status applications due to retrogression, to now do so.  While this does not solve the issue of the long wait time to actually receive a green card, it does allow individuals seeking permanent residence to obtain an EAD card to work, change jobs by qualifying for AC21 portability, obtain Advance Parole to travel abroad, and avoid visa extensions and stamping at a U.S. consulate.

The October 2015 Visa Bulletin can be found on the State Department website at travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin/2016/visa-bulletin-for-october-2015.html.  The USCIS announcement can be found here.