The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced the implementation of new procedures that will decrease waiting periods for eligible adjustment of status applicants. Furthermore, the new procedure will allow the Department of State (DOS) to better predict and determine general immigration visa demand. This will subsequently provide more accurate information for determining monthly application cut-off dates in the DOS monthly Visa Bulletin. The USCIS’s and DOS’s goal is to maximize annually issued immigrant visas while minimizing monthly fluctuations in Visa Bulletin cut-off dates that unnecessarily slow the process. These new procedures are a direct result of President Obama’s November 2014 Executive Action.
What is a Priority Date?
To understand application eligibility based on the DOS monthly Visa Bulletin, applicants must be aware of the significance of their priority date. This date governs when an applicant is able to pursue the last steps towards permanent residency (commonly known as ‘obtaining a green card‘) by filing an adjustment of status application (if the applicant is currently in the United States) or pursuing an immigrant visa abroad. In a family-sponsored case, the priority date is determined when a relative officially files a family sponsored visa petition. For employment-based cases, the priority date is when an employer officially files a labor certification or PERM with the U.S. Department of Labor on the applicant’s behalf. When a foreign national’s priority date, also known as the cut-off date, becomes listed on the Visa Bulletin, he or she is eligible to file either for adjustment of status or in the case of consular cases, be scheduled for an interview abroad at the US consulate.
How Does the Visa Bulletin Factor into New Procedures?
The DOS monthly Visa Bulletin tracks the availability of visas for prospective immigrants according to application type, country of origin, and priority date for both family sponsored and employment based classifications. When an applicant becomes eligible to apply for a visa, he or she is in the final stretch towards permanent residency. New charts available in the monthly bulletin should be utilized by applicants to determine their status.
The October 2015 Visa Bulletin offers two categories:
- “Application Final Action Dates” determine the final dates when immigrant visas may be issued.
- “Dates for Filing Applications” determine the earliest dates available for filing adjustment of status applications.
Multifaceted and complex factors are involved in the process of determining each month’s cut-off dates. The annual number of remaining visas are compared to:
- Qualified visa applicants reported by the DOS
- Pending adjustment of status applications reported by USCIS
- Past drop-off rates, including denials, withdrawals, and abandonments
Who Can Benefit?
The class of people who stand to benefit the most from the new charts are those who are currently in the US hoping to file for adjustment of status. In some categories, there is dramatic difference between the two charts. For example, spouses of permanent residents fall under preference category F2A. Under the October Visa Bulletin, Final Action Dates are still stuck in April 15, 2014, which means an immigrant visa cannot be issued abroad to anyone outside the United States unless his/her priority date is before or at April 2014. Contrast this with the same category under the new Filing Visa bulletin where F2A indicates March 1, 2015. What this means is that for those who are eligible for adjustment of status, they can submit their I-485 applications if their family based I-130 has a priority date before March 1, 2015-which is only five months behind. Filing an I-485 can make a tremendous difference for those currently in the US including the ability to stay here while their applications are being adjudicated, as well as the ability to file for employment authorization and potentially advance parole to travel abroad, if necessary.
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