The Visa Bulletin
The Visa Bulletin, issued monthly by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consulate Affairs, shows the availability of immigrant visa numbers. Each major category – family-based, employment based, and diversity based—is allotted a certain number of immigrant visa numbers, depending on demand reported to the Department of State. If there are more qualified applicants than available slots, then a cut-off date is set, and visas will be granted according to priority dates.
Generally speaking, a priority date is assigned when an application/petition is filed. The movement of priority dates on the Visa Bulletin varies, depending on a number of factors including the total number of visas available, the number of visas each country is allowed, and the number of visas each petition takes up. An unusually high volume of applications for a certain preference category, such as the 4th category for siblings of US Citizens, can result in priority dates advancing very slowly. Towards the end of the fiscal year, the cut-off date can be even move backwards (retrogress) as visa limits are reached.
Annual visa issuances to a particular country are capped at 7%. Even if a country with a low demand for visas does not reach its annual limit, a country with high demand does not get more than its allotment of visas as a result. This reflects Congress’s desire to have relatively balanced demographics and to avoid having too many immigrants from any one country.
For more information, please check the State Department’s Visa Bulletin.