Late last year, the Department of State began issuing two visa bulletins. Notwithstanding the potential benefits of the new chart, the two charts have caused a lot of confusion within the immigrant community. With all the retrogression going on these days, it is critical to understand the difference between the two charts and which one is applicable.
The Traditional Chart
The "traditional" chart, or one that we have been following for years now, is titled the "Application Final Action Dates." This chart reflects the priority dates that the Department of State is currently working on for the respective family and employment based preference categories. Intending immigrants who are abroad must follow this chart.
The New Chart
The new chart is called "Dates for Filing [Family-Sponsored or Employment-Sponsored] Visa Applications." This chart pertains to individuals currently in the United States who wish to file adjustment of status applications, as opposed to receiving immigrant visas through the consular process. This chart, importantly, does not replace the traditional chart. However, as is evident in many categories, the processing times under this chart are significantly faster than the regular chart. In practical terms, this potentially allows an individual to file for and conceivably receive a grant of permanent residence much earlier than someone who is waiting outside the United States. In some categories, the new chart is 1 year ahead of the traditional chart!
As mentioned previously, the new chart does not replace the old chart. Both charts are issued every month. USCIS will determine and announce every month whether applicants should follow the Application Final Action Dates chart or the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart. The Department of State and consulates will continue to adhere to and follow the Application Final Action Dates chart.
Of course, when it comes to adjustment of status, the priority date is only one part of the analysis. Just because a visa category is current or will soon become current does not automatically establish eligibility for adjustment. Applicants need to be mindful of the other criteria as well as disqualifiers under section 245c of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Some issues that should be considered include but are certainly not limited to unlawful presence, violation of status, unauthorized employment, and any circumstances or situations involving fraudulent conduct or misrepresentation. Like any major achievement in life, securing permanent residence entails foresight, strategy, and a healthy dose of realism.
Remember that the foregoing is general information/opinion. It does not create an attorney-client relationship, constitute legal advice, or intended to substitute for such. For specific legal advice, you should consult with an attorney.