The twists and turns of the Immigrant Visa Bulletin

Q. What exactly is the Visa Bulletin, and how does it work?

A.  Any person who has had to apply for an Immigrant Visa at a US embassy abroad or has petitioned for a family member in a foreign country is familiar with the Visa Bulletin that is used by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services as well as the Department of State as a summarty of the availability of visas for certain family-based and employment-based immigration categories.

The Immigration and Nationality Act establishes limits on how many family-sponsored and employment-sponsored visas can be issued in a given year. These limits, especially for family-sponsored immigrant visas, are low – for example, the INA allows only 23,400 unmarried sons or daughters of US citizens to enter in a given year – so more applications are received than visas can be issued, which causes a category to become “oversubscribed.” 

This oversubscription means that people must wait until the time comes for them to be invited by the National Visa Center to submit their documentation, then wait for their application to be adjudicated, and then wait for their immigrant visa to be issued. If the preference category is not oversubscribed, it is “current,” indicating that an applicant will not have to wait a period of time to be able to submit documents. 

To put these abstract notions into concrete information, if you are a US citizen and want to petition your Irish sibling to come to the United States, then the application falls under the Fourth (F4) family-preference category. Currently, consular officers are inviting individuals in the F4 category to submit documents if their petition was received before Feb. 1, 2008. Those F4 applications are being adjudicated if they were filed prior to April 8, 2007, or when George W. Bush was President of the United States.

Although this backlog suggests that approximately fifteen years from now a US consular officer will make a decision about your petition to bring your sibling to the United States, such a calculation cannot be made because the visa bulletin does not move consistently forward. In fact, the final action dates and dates for filing can be stuck at the same date for months at a time. Alternatively, they can even more backwards in time – a dreaded phenomenon in immigration law. 

In March 2023, the Department of State announced that it would do just that: retrogress final action dates for some key immigrant visa categories, including the F2A category for spouses and children of permanent residents, and the second and fourth employment-based preference categories. Accordingly, immigration practitioners can never give confident estimates on how quickly an immigrant visa will become available for an employment-based or family-based preference category that is not current.

If you are contemplating petitioning for a family member, do not hesitate to contact the Rian Immigrant Center at 617-984-6542 to schedule a legal consultation with an attorney who can walk you through the steps involved.

Disclaimer: These articles are published to inform the general public, not to advise in individual cases. All law, including immigration law, is always subject to change. If you seek legal advice you can contact Rian’s immigration legal staff at 617-984-6542.