Visa bulletin is a monthly publication of the Department of State (DOS), summarizing the availability of immigrant visa numbers during a given month. It establishes cut-off dates for all employment-based and family-based categories which are experiencing a shortage of visa numbers. Only applicants who have a priority date earlier than the cut-off date may be allocated a number, which is necessary to receive an immigrant visa or to adjust status.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets a limit of total preference immigrants allowed per year, as well as a limit of 7% for any country (per-country quota). To control visa number subscription, the visa bulletin is first divided into two groups, family-sponsored and employment-based; and within each group are the different preference categories: FB-1, FB-2A, FB-2B FB-3, FB-4, and EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4, EB-5, including special/pilot programs. For each category, China (mainland), India, Mexico and Philippines are listed separately from the rest of the world to meet the per-country limit.
The visa bulletin, if controlled well, should be able to allow the consumption of nearly all visa numbers without exceeding the annual quota. Keep in mind that visa numbers are allocated within a fiscal year, which runs from October 1st to September 30th of next year.
The Visa Office (VO) of the Department of State (DOS) is the government agency authorized to control visa number allocation, and to establish monthly cut-off dates for oversubscribed categories. At the beginning of each month, VO collects information from overseas consular posts and USCIS with regard to immigrant visa requests. After analyzing the data and comparing demand with regular visa allotment, VO is able to set cutoff dates, if necessary, for the following month.
See the flow chart for more information.
Unused visa numbers during a fiscal year may be re-allocated to other categories, sometimes being referred to as a "spill-over." There are different scenarios: