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How Visa Bulletin Works

Understanding Visa Bulletin

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.

How Visa Cut-off Dates are Established

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.

Allocation of Unused Visa Numbers to Other Categories

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:

  • Fall Across: If an oversubscribed country demands relatively small quantity of visas in the family preferences, the excess visa numbers would be made available to the Employment preferences, as long as the total number use is still within the annual limit for that country. In such case, EB1, EB2 and EB3 would each receive 28.6% of the excess numbers, and EB4 and EB5 would get 7.1% each.

    Fall-across may also happen if an oversubscribed country lacks demand in the employment preferences, which would result in excess visa numbers being allocated to family preferences.

    Sometimes fall-across can prevent a country from becoming oversubscribed. For example, if a foreign state has very little demand for FB visas, but significantly more for EB visa numbers, the allocation of unused visa numbers may exceed the limit established for employment categories. However, as long as total demand is still below the 7% cap, this country would not be classified as oversubscribed.

  • Fall Down: Unused visa numbers in a higher preference level can "fall-down" to lower preference categories. For example, excess EB1 numbers can "fall-down" to EB2. Similarly, EB3 will receive numbers not required by EB1 and EB2.

  • Fall Up: Unused visa numbers in EB4 and EB5 can "fall-up" to EB1.
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