Work and Employment

USCIS Visa Bulletin Explained: Step-by-step Guide

Confused by the USCIS visa bulletin? What is a priority date? Why are there 2 dates on the visa bulletin? After hearing these questions from thousands of our prior clients, we decided to create the ultimate guide explaining how to read the USCIS visa bulletin.

Chelsea Spinos, Writer
Simon Craven, Manifest Immigration Lawyer

By:

Chelsea Spinos

Chelsea Spinos is a contributing writer for Manifest Law. She covers all topics related to U.S. visas and green cards. She is passionate about helping people navigate their immigration journey with clarity and confidence.

Reviewer:

Simon Craven, Esq.

Simon Craven is an immigration attorney with 11+ years of experience working on thousands of successful immigration cases. Simon is passionate about US immigration and helping people.

12 min read • March 29, 2024

Image of a United States Green Card
Image of a United States Green Card
Image of a United States Green Card

Key takeaways

Visa bulletin is a monthly publication by the USCIS that defines the priority for various types of Green Cards - employment, family and others.

Visa bulletins are extremely confusing. They have a lot of numbers, dates and visa categories. Many of our clients get lost, confused and overwhelmed.

We created the most clear, simple and straight forward manual explaining how to read the visa bulletin. In this guide we explain what is your priority date and when can you get your green Card.

Video guide: How to read the USCIS visa bulletin

Video guide: How to read the USCIS visa bulletin

In this USCIS visa guide, we'll help you locate your priority date and read the visa bulletin chart. We'll also explain why the visa bulletin dates might not be moving and provide guidance on what to do when your priority date becomes current.

What is the USCIS visa bulletin?

What is the USCIS visa bulletin?

The USCIS visa bulletin is published by the U.S. Department of State every month, showing which green card applications can move forward. Your place in line for a green card is determined by your priority date, which is given upon filing an immigrant petition (Form I-140 or Form I-130).

You have reached the front of a line for a green card once your priority date has become “current”.

You can check the visa bulletin to watch your place in line and find out when you can move forward with your green card application.

💡 Manifest Tip: Remember to review the form very carefully, as the information cannot be changed once submitted!

To read the visa bulletin chart, you need to know two things:

  1. Your priority date

  1. Your preference category

How to find your priority date

How to find your priority date

Since Congress sets a cap on the number of green cards issued each year (366,000 annually), there is an ongoing backlog which creates a waiting list. Your priority date is essentially your place on the waiting list.


Your priority date is the date that USCIS receives the initial filing of your immigration petition, such as Form I-130.


Finding your priority date is fairly simple. You can take a look at the receipt notice (Form I-797C) that USCIS sends you after they receive and process your petition.

Your priority date is located at the top section of the document.

Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

How to determine your preference category

How to determine your preference category

Next step is to find which preference category your case falls under. This is essential to know which visa bulletin chart to look at.

Employment-based preference categories:

Employment-based preference categories:

EB-1: Individuals filing for an EB-1A visa for extraordinary ability, EB-1B visa for outstanding professors and researchers, and EB-1C visa for multinational executives or managers.

EB-2: Individuals with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities, filing for an EB2 PERM or EB2 NIW visa.

EB-3: Skilled workers with at least two years of experience, professionals with a bachelor's degree, and other workers filing for an EB3 visa.

EB-4: Special immigrant categories such as religious workers, filing for an EB4 visa.

EB-5: Individuals making substantial investments in U.S. businesses for an EB5 visa.

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Family-sponsored preference categories:

Family-sponsored preference categories:

F1: Unmarried children over the age of 21 of U.S. citizens.

F2A: Spouses and unmarried children (under 21 years old) of lawful permanent residents.

F2B: Unmarried children over the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents.

F3: Married children of U.S. citizens.

F4: Siblings of U.S. citizens.

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Note: There isn’t an annual limit on the number of green cards for spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21, so you won’t see these categories on the visa bulletin!

Note: There isn’t an annual limit on the number of green cards for spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21, so you won’t see these categories on the visa bulletin!

How to read the visa bulletin chart

How to read the visa bulletin chart

Now that you know how to find your priority date and the preference category you’re in, it’s time to head over to the U.S. State Department's website and find the monthly visa bulletin.

If you're looking into applying for a green card in the US, you may have heard about the Visa Bulletin. The Visa Bulletin exists because there is an annual limit on certain kinds of green cards. When demand exceeds supply, backlogs are created. The government publishes the Visa Bulletin monthly to indicate the wait times for each category. If visas are available for a certain category, applications are ready to move on to the next steps in the green card process.

1

Start by searching for "visa bulletin" online (or go directly to: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin.html)

2

Type "visa bulletin"

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

3

Click on …

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

4

To find out the cases eligible for filing this month, click on the "Current Visa Bulletin"

Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

5

Determine whether you are in the Family or Employment Sponsored category, and confirm the Priority Date and correct Preference category for your case ("Section"):

Note: "Immediate Relatives" are exempt from visa limitations and therefore not included in the visa bulletin categories. You are an Immediate Relative if you are: the spouse of a U.S. citizen; the unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen; or the parent of a U.S. citizen (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older).

Note: "Immediate Relatives" are exempt from visa limitations and therefore not included in the visa bulletin categories. You are an Immediate Relative if you are: the spouse of a U.S. citizen; the unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen; or the parent of a U.S. citizen (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older).

6

Sample Family Approval Notice (I-130)

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

7

Sample Employment Approval Notice (I-140, I-360, I-526)

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

Note: If you're not sure, you can confirm the different Preference categories on the Visa Bulletin page:

Note: If you're not sure, you can confirm the different Preference categories on the Visa Bulletin page:

8

Click on FAMILY-SPONSORED PREFERENCES

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

9

Click on EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCES

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

10

Determine whether to use the "Dates for Filing" or "Final Action" chart for your category by going to the USCIS visa bulletin information site.

12

Click on GO

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

13

Look at the matching category for your case (Family or Employment)

14

Family-Sponsored Filings:

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

15

Employment-Based Preference Filings:

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

16

Confirm which chart is used for your category that month

Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

17

You can also see the next month's charts, usually a few weeks before the start of the month:

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

18

Family Categories (F):

Visa Bulletin Family Categories
Visa Bulletin Family Categories
Visa Bulletin Family Categories

19

Employment Categories (EB):

Employment categories
Employment categories
Employment categories

20

Find the applicable column for your country of nationality

Column for nationality
Column for nationality
Column for nationality

21

Match your preference category (F1, F3, EB1, EB3, etc.) with the country column to find the current Priority Date.

In this example, the petition is in the F2A category (Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents), for a beneficiary from India. The current Priority date is September 1, 2023.

Match you preference category with the country column
Match you preference category with the country column
Match you preference category with the country column

Once you have matched the correct preference category and country column, you can confirm the "current" priority date that month.

Note: You are eligible to take the next steps in your green card application if your Priority Date is BEFORE the date on the chart.

Note: You are eligible to take the next steps in your green card application if your Priority Date is BEFORE the date on the chart.

Diversity Visas: If you applied in the "DIVERSITY IMMIGRANT" (DV) category, you can find additional information here as well.

22

This works a bit differently than the Employment and Family categories, and is determined by a "cut-off number" rather than a Priority Date.

Sample DV Selection Notice:

Sample DV selection notice
Sample DV selection notice
Sample DV selection notice

Note: When an allocation cut-off number is shown for your region in the Visa Bulletin, visas are available only for applicants with case numbers BELOW the specified cut-off number.

Note: When an allocation cut-off number is shown for your region in the Visa Bulletin, visas are available only for applicants with case numbers BELOW the specified cut-off number.

23

Compare your region's number with the cut-off number on your selection notice, and confirm if yours is lower, or "current." If so, you can take the next steps for your green card!

Diversity immigrant category for March
Diversity immigrant category for March
Diversity immigrant category for March

Note: Sometimes the Visa Bulletin includes additional sections, such as "VISA AVAILABILITY IN THE COMING MONTHS", with predictions and other information about future visa availability:

Note: Sometimes the Visa Bulletin includes additional sections, such as "VISA AVAILABILITY IN THE COMING MONTHS", with predictions and other information about future visa availability:

24

Sometimes the Visa Bulletin includes "VISA AVAILABILITY IN THE COMING MONTHS" with predictions and other information about visa availability.

Visa Bulletin Visa Availability
Visa Bulletin Visa Availability
Visa Bulletin Visa Availability

That's it! Hopefully this step-by-step guide to the USCIS Visa Bulletin helps you to navigate your way to success on your green card journey!

Why are there two charts on the visa bulletin?

Why are there two charts on the visa bulletin?

As you may have noticed, the USCIS visa bulletin includes two charts for each category: "Final Action Dates" and the "Dates for Filing Applications".

Each chart serves a different purpose and is intended to provide guidance to visa applicants at different stages of the immigration process. Let’s take a closer look at each chart:

Final Action Dates chart

  • Provides cut off dates for final approval of immigrant visa applications

  • If your priority date is earlier than the cutoff dates in this chart, you can take the next step of your visa application process!


Dates for Filing Applications chart

  • Provides cut off dates for submitting certain forms and documents to file a visa application

  • If your priority date is earlier than the cutoff dates in this chart, you can go ahead and submit your application, but USCIS will not take final action until the priority date becomes current according to the Final Action Dates chart


In short, if you are at the earlier stages of your visa application, you most likely need to look at the Dates for Filing Applications chart. 

If you are at the later stages of your visa application, you will need to look at the Final Action Dates chart to see if a visa for your category is available.

Visa bulletin examples

Visa bulletin examples

Let's take a look at a few hypothetical examples of how someone would read the visa bulletin based on their country of origin, visa type, and priority date.

23

Image of a researcher from China
Image of a researcher from China

Dr. Sophia Chen

Dr. Sophia Chen

Dr. Sophia Chen is a researcher in the field of artificial intelligence and a citizen of China. Given her significant contributions to her field through her groundbreaking research, she is eligible for the EB1-B visa. She has an approved I-140 petition with a priority date of August 22, 2022.


With the EB1-B visa, we need to look at the first row of the visa bulletin for the employment-based category.


Since she is a citizen of China, we need to look at the column for “China-mainland born”.


In the sample visa bulletin shown above, Sophia’s priority date is earlier than the listed date of September 1, 2022 on the Final Action Dates chart.


This means that there is a visa available for the EB1-B category!

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23

Image of a software developer from India
Image of a software developer from India

Steven Patel

Steven Patel

Steven Patel, a software developer from India, has been recognized for his innovative contributions to mobile application development. Seeking new opportunities abroad, Steven is applying for an E3 visa as an "other worker" to further his career in the US. He has an approved I-140 petition with a priority date of November 11, 2022.


With the EB3 visa for “other workers”, we need to look at the fourth row of the visa bulletin for the employment-based category.


Since he is a citizen of India, we need to look at the column for “India”.


In the sample visa bulletin shown above, Steven’s priority date is later than the listed date of September 12th, 2015, which means there is not a visa available yet.


Steven still needs to wait, and check the visa bulletin later for updates.

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23

F2A visa petitioner from Mexico
F2A visa petitioner from Mexico

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez, a citizen of Mexico, has been married to Maria, a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) of the US, for three years. Maria has initiated the process to sponsor Carlos for an F2A visa so they can build their life together in the US. Carlos has an approved I-130 petition with a priority date of May 5, 2023.


With the F2A visa, we need to look at the second row of the visa bulletin for the family-sponsored category.


Since he is a citizen of Mexico, we need to look at the column for “Mexico”.


In the sample visa bulletin shown above, Carlos’ priority date is earlier than the listed date of September 1, 2023.


This means there is an F2A visa available, and he can move onto the next step of the green card process.

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How often does USCIS release the visa bulletin?

How often does USCIS release the visa bulletin?

The U.S. The Department of State releases the visa bulletin every month, typically around the middle of the month.


Every month, the Department of State reviews the current backlog across the visa categories and predicts a future date based on this data. If your priority date falls on or before this projected date, it's time to take the next step in your immigration journey.


Stay informed about the USCIS visa bulletin and visa bulletin predictions on our blog article here for the latest insights.


You can also enter your email address below to receive monthly updates sent directly to your inbox.

Stay Informed about USCIS Visa Bulletin Updates

Stay Informed about USCIS Visa Bulletin Updates

Stay Informed about USCIS Visa Bulletin Updates

Enter your email address to receive a monthly update.

Enter your email address to receive a monthly update.

Why is the visa bulletin not moving?

Why is the visa bulletin not moving?

Sometimes the priority dates listed on the visa bulletin chart remain unchanged or even regress from the previous month. When this happens, it's known as visa retrogression.


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 for a visa commonly happens towards the end of the fiscal year as visa allocations get close to the annual limits for specific categories or countries.


While there isn’t anything you can do to prevent or eliminate visa retrogression, there are some steps you can take to navigate the delays and uncertainty:


  • Stay informed: Keep an eye on the USCIS visa bulletin for updates on priority date movements and any changes in visa availability for different categories and countries

  • Explore other visa options: Consider any alternative visa categories that may not be affected by retrogression, or have different priority date requirements

  • Consult a professional: Our experienced immigration lawyers at Manifest Law can help assess the impact of visa retrogression on your case and explore alternative options or strategies

  • Remain patient: We know it's frustrating when you watch the visa bulletin not moving, but the unfortunate reality is that the supply of visas isn’t enough to meet the demand. Instead, focus on collecting your documents and preparing your case

My green card priority date is current! Now what?

My green card priority date is current! Now what?

Congrats! If your I-130 petition is now current, it’s time to move onto the next step towards getting permanent residency. Depending on where you are applying from, you will either file through Consular Processing or Adjustment of Status.

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

Consular processing

Consular processing

If you're applying from outside the United States, your path is consular processing. This involves applying for an immigrant visa (green card) through a U.S. embassy or consular office abroad. 


With consular processing, the National Visa Center will notify the petitioner and beneficiary when the visa becomes available. They'll request the immigrant fee, visa application, Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support), and a medical exam. 

Once you provide these, the NVC will transfer your case to the U.S. embassy or consulate for an interview.


Processing time for Consular Processing


The processing time for consular processing can range from a few months to over a year in some cases.


Fees for Consular Processing


The fees for consular processing can vary depending on the visa type, but here are some of the common fees:

Fee

Visa application fee

Medical examination fee

Document translation fees

Cost

$160 - $365

Varies depending on country and physician

Varies

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For marriage and family-based green cards, additional fees include:

Form

Form I-130

Form I-864

Form DS-260

USCIS Immigrant Fee

Cost

$535

$120

$325

$220

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Graduate businessman holding diploma
Graduate businessman holding diploma

Adjustment of status

Adjustment of status

If you're already in the United States, you might qualify for adjustment of status, which is changing from a temporary visa to permanent residency (green card). 


This option is available to certain people who entered the U.S. lawfully and meet specific criteria. For example, immediate relatives, K-1 visa holders who married a U.S. citizen, asylees, refugees, and certain employment visa holders sponsored for a green card can typically adjust status. Others must go through consular processing.


Processing time for Adjustment of Status


Generally, the processing time for adjustment of status can range from a few months to over a year. 


In some cases, processing times may be shorter if the application is straightforward and there are no issues. 


However, processing times can be longer if there are issues with the application, requests for evidence (RFEs) are sent, or if additional security or background checks are required.


Fees for Adjustment of Status


The fees for adjustment of status can vary depending on the visa type, but here are some of the common fees:

Fee

Form I-485 Filing Fee

Biometric Services Fee

Form I-765 Filing Fee (Optional)

Form I-131 Filing Fee (Optional)

Cost

$1,130

$85

$550

$575

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Once my priority date is current, how long do I have to file?

Once my priority date is current, how long do I have to file?

You have one year from the date an immigrant visa becomes available to claim it!


With a year of the visa becoming available, you need to start the application process and respond to any notifications from the National Visa Center (NVC). If you don’t start the process within the one-year period, you may lose the opportunity to obtain the immigrant visa and your priority date, and you would need to reapply for the visa.


So, it’s important that you keep your eyes on the USCIS visa bulletin to stay informed about the priority dates.

Stay Informed about USCIS Visa Bulletin Updates

Stay Informed about USCIS Visa Bulletin Updates

Enter your email address to receive a monthly update.

Enter your email address to receive a monthly update.

How Manifest Law can help

How Manifest Law can help

When your priority date becomes current based on the USCIS visa bulletin, an immigration lawyer can assist you in completing and filing the necessary forms, such as the I-485, I-765, and I-131, accurately and promptly. 


They can also help prep you for any required interview, guiding you on presenting your case effectively and offering expert advice on answering questions.


Here at Manifest Law, our immigration lawyers have 10+ years of experience and have handled thousands of visa and green card applications.  We offer flexible payment plans stretching up to 6 months and a visa-approved or money-back guarantee (terms apply). 


Book a free visa consultation today, and get the support and guidance you need.

Take the First Step:

Schedule your free consultation!

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Review of visa options available for you

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General information about timelines, fees, requirements for various visa options

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Information on Manifest fees, terms and process

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Full clarity and transparency every step along the way

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Principal attorney at Manifest Law

Take the First Step:

Schedule your free consultation!

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Review of visa options available for you

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General information about timelines, fees, requirements for various visa options

Check mark in a circle icon

Information on Manifest fees, terms and process

Check mark in a circle icon

Full clarity and transparency every step along the way

Picture of Avi Goldenburg, principal attorney at Manifest law, smiling in eye glasses and a blue button up shirt in his office.

Avi Goldenberg

Principal attorney at Manifest Law

Take the First Step:

Schedule your free consultation!

Check mark in a circle icon

Review of visa options available for you

Check mark in a circle icon

General information about timelines, fees, requirements for various visa options

Check mark in a circle icon

Information on Manifest fees, terms and process

Check mark in a circle icon

Full clarity and transparency every step along the way

Picture of Avi Goldenburg, principal attorney at Manifest law, smiling in eye glasses and a blue button up shirt in his office.

Avi Goldenberg

Principal attorney at Manifest Law

Attorney Advertising. This website is intended for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and is no substitute for consulting a licensed attorney. Only an attorney can provide you with legal advice, and only after considering your specific facts and circumstances. You should not act on any information on this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney. manifestlaw.com is a product of Manifest Law PLLC. Manifest Law PLLC is a law firm operating as a New York Professional Corporation.

2024 Manifest Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

Attorney Advertising. This website is intended for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and is no substitute for consulting a licensed attorney. Only an attorney can provide you with legal advice, and only after considering your specific facts and circumstances. You should not act on any information on this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney. manifestlaw.com is a product of Manifest Law PLLC. Manifest Law PLLC is a law firm operating as a New York Professional Corporation.

2024 Manifest Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

Attorney Advertising. This website is intended for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and is no substitute for consulting a licensed attorney. Only an attorney can provide you with legal advice, and only after considering your specific facts and circumstances. You should not act on any information on this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney. manifestlaw.com is a product of Manifest Law PLLC. Manifest Law PLLC is a law firm operating as a New York Professional Corporation.

2024 Manifest Copyright. All Rights Reserved.