The October 2015 Visa Bulletin marks a significant change to the process of determining visa availability. Under the legacy system, there is one cutoff date for each category: You will not be able to submit an application, or if you already have a pending case, it will not be approved, unless your priority date is earlier than the cutoff date set forth in the visa bulletin. The new format, however, includes two visa bulletin charts:
- One chart contains cutoff dates for Final Action (for example, approval). This is essentially the old visa bulletin where a visa number is officially allocated to a pending case, thus making it eligible for approval.
- A second chart contains cutoff dates for Filing Applications. What it means is that if your priority date is earlier than the “filing” cutoff date, you may submit your application even if there is no visa number available yet.
The new “filing” chart offers major benefits because it should typically contain cut-off dates much later than the “approval” visa bulletin. As a result, many people will be able to submit their adjustment of status applications (I-485) earlier than under the old, one-chart visa bulletin system.
Take India EB-2 for example, the “approval” cutoff date for October is 01MAY05, but “filing” cutoff date is 01JUL09. So for thousands of applicants whose priority dates fall between 01MAY05 and 01JUL09 – a span of more than four years – they will be allowed to file I-485 starting October 1, 2015. Under the old system, they would have to wait much longer for the “approval” dates to advance before they could do so.
Although filing an I-485 early doesn’t mean you’ll get a green card sooner, there are still many advantages:
- Apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which may be approved by USCIS rather quickly.
- Apply for a travel document such as Advance Parole, which in some cases provides more flexibility for travelling overseas than using a visa.
- Take advantage of AC-21 portability.
- Obtain certain benefits for spouse and dependent children
The new “filing” visa bulletin should also help the Department of State and USCIS to streamline the visa allocation process. By allowing people to file early, for some categories years early, they will have more accurate data to estimate visa demand and thus establish cutoff dates in a more efficient way. In the future we may see less fluctuation from month to month, or at least, a reduction in the wild swings of cutoff date movement.
The dual-chart visa bulletins apply to both employment-based and family-sponsored categories. So in each visa bulletin, there are actually four charts or tables: Employment Final Action (Approval), Employment Filing, Family Final Action and Family Filing.
The October 2015 Visa Bulletin was originally published on September 9, 2015. On September 25, DOS revised it and modified a total of five cut-off dates (all for “filing”). The updated version supersedes the original one, so if you’re preparing to file I-485 next month, please make sure you’re using the revised cutoff dates.