Interpreting the Visa Bulletin

The monthly visa bulletin guides who can apply for and receive visas.  The visa bulletin can be confusing, because it gives information about sequence for a process that is not strictly sequential. It’s easy to misinterpret the swift movement of EB-5 final action dates, for example. This post discusses the June 2020 visa bulletin and then, as an alternate/additional approach to the question, discusses how priority does and does not work in context of a couple simplified analogies.

Visa Bulletin Example

Consider the June 2020 Visa Bulletin Chart A Final Action Dates.

Interpretation

  • EB-5 is the 5th Employment-based preference. There are separate rows for non-regional center (direct) and regional center EB-5, because these categories get treated differently in case the regional center program authorization lapses. Otherwise, these two rows will be identical to each other each month.
  • The letter “C” means that visa numbers are currently authorized for issuance to all qualified applicants, regardless of when they filed petitions. For EB-5, all countries except China, Vietnam, and India are current for now.
  • The 15Jul15 final action date for China EB-5 means that qualified China-born visa applicants who filed I-526 BEFORE (but not on or after) July 15, 2015 may now proceed to finish the process to get conditional green cards. The 10Jan20 final action date for India EB-5 means that qualified India-born visa applicants who filed I-526 before January 10, 2020 may now move forward to receive visas. The final action dates mark the cut-off for visa availability.
  • The final action date indicates the qualified applicants who MAY move forward – not necessarily those who CAN move forward.  As it happens, all applicants outside the U.S., regardless of priority date and qualification, are currently prevented from getting visas by the fact that consulates are sheltering in place and not giving visa interviews.  At the moment, the population of people who CAN move forward is practically limited to qualified applicants able to finish the visa process through adjustment of status in the U.S. Department of State would take this practical limitation into account, when defining the final action date-barrier for visa availability. The dates in the June 2020 visa bulletin presumably do not account for the inventory of visa applicants pending at the National Visa Center, since those applicants aren’t practically able to demand visas in June. When it’s possible to temporarily discount many pending applicants, it’s possible to move the final action date quickly to accommodate the few applicants who are practically able to claim visas.
  • Even without a pandemic, the final action date does not mean that everyone who filed I-526 before that date can proceed to get visas now. The key word is “qualified” applicants – meaning people who already have I-526 approval and have active and complete visa applications on file. If someone from India filed I-526 in 2019, that person can only proceed to final action in June 2020 if qualified at the visa stage. If still waiting for I-526 approval or visa document review, that person is not eligible yet to claim a visa regardless of the visa bulletin.
  • The final action date in the visa bulletin does not mean that most people who filed petitions before that date already have visas. Department of State issues visas in order by priority date, but processing at USCIS may not be sequential. We know that hundreds of Indians with 2018 and 2017 priority dates (and even some 2016 PD) are still waiting at USCIS for I-526 approval. So when the Visa Bulletin has a January 1, 2020 final action date for India, that can’t mean that most India priority dates from 2019 and earlier are already through the system. It just means that earlier priority dates aren’t yet able to claim visas (thanks, USCIS processing delays and COVID-19), and thus had to be temporarily skipped over for visa issuance. When those earlier PD do reach the point of being able to claim visas, the visa bulletin final action date will need to retrogress (move back in time) to accommodate them.  By contrast, the numbers suggest that few I-526 filed before July 2015 should still be pending at USCIS. So the July 2015 final action date for China could indeed reflect the actual progress of China visa issuance, not just the accident of who’s currently positioned to claim a visa. Knowing who’s in line at different stages, I’m certain that the India final action date will retrogress significantly in future visa bulletins. It’s possible that the China and Vietnam date movement might just slow down rather than moving back in time.

Hypothetical Examples

Basically, the key to understanding the visa bulletin is understanding the extent to which the EB-5 process is and is not sequential by priority date. To that end, I’ve made a couple simplified hypothetical scenarios, with pictures. The first scenario reflects how some people assume the EB-5 process works. The second scenario is more analogous to how it really works.

In hypothetical Scenario A:

  • Each person receives a priority number when entering the “File Petition” door.
  • People wait in line in order of priority number, and proceed in this order to and through the “Get visa” door.
  • Three people per month are allowed go through the Get Visa door.
  • The bulletin over the Get Visa door is updated monthly to post the priority number of the first person who can’t fit through the door that month.
  • When the bulletin posts #4, that means number 1, 2, and 3 may go through the Get Visa door.
  • Considering the queue and how it moves sequentially at a rate of three/month, we can confidently predict the following future bulletin updates: Month 2: #7, Month 3: #10, Month 4: #13.
  • The person with #9 can confidently predict that his turn to get a visa will come no earlier and no later than 9/3=3 months.
  • Scenario A shows a process that’s predictable because strictly sequential from beginning to end. In that sense, it differs from the EB-5 process.

In hypothetical Scenario B:

  • The same rules apply as in Scenario A, except that the process includes multiple stages, and only strictly organized by priority number in the last stage.
  • The queue is mixed in Scenario B due to the first stage, which does not necessarily respect priority numbers. Some petitions are unreasonably delayed here, while others were apparently advanced out-of-order from stage one to the later stage.
  • In Scenario B, the bulletin over the Get Visa door only considers people in the final stage – in a position to claim visas — when posting who gets through that month.
  • The bulletin in Scenario B currently posts “10,” because 10 happens to be the first eligible number not possible to accommodate under the three/month limit. Posting #10 allows eligible 1, 3, and 6 through the green door. It does not allow 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, or 9 through the door, because those numbers happen to be still stuck at ineligible stages. (If those numbers had all been in the eligible stage, then the bulletin would’ve posted #4.). If it happens that 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8 reach the final stage by next month, then the next month’s bulletin will “retrogress” to #7, the earliest number not possible to accommodate under the three/month limit.
  • The person holding #9 has a complex visa wait time calculation. His future turn at the Get Visa door isn’t simply a function of being #9 in queue that moves at a rate of three per month, since the first stage mixed the queue. His turn isn’t now, despite the #10 posted in the current bulletin, because he’s not yet at the stage of being able to claim a visa. It may or may not be his turn once he does reach the eligible visa stage: it depends on who’s at various stages, and when they are able to reach the final stage. We can see that six other people with lower numbers are still in the queue as well. They’re not yet recognized by the bulletin since they’re also not eligible yet, but will be eventually.
  • The priority numbers create order within the visa stage, but not necessarily before that. The more people are concentrated in the final stage, the more order and predictability in the process. The more people are stuck in the first stage, the more potential for disorder and unpredictability.
  • Scenario B is relatively comparable to how priority dates function in the EB-5 process.

Bonus Features

For those about to make a comment asking about visa timing for a specific situation, please see my timing consultation page. Timing estimates are tough, as evident in this post. My consultations are rooted in my attempt to quantify (by piecing together sporadic reports from USCIS and Department of State) the current breakdown of the EB-5 backlog by country, priority date, and process stage. Having this picture in view, we can think about the timing outlook for someone at a given place in that backlog.

The following images show sides from Charles Oppenheim’s visa presentation at the 2018 AILA & IIUSA EB-5 Industry Forum October 29–30, 2018 Chicago, IL. These slides illustrate how EB-5 cases can get mixed up in practice, instead of proceeding in date order from the I-526 stage to the visa stages.

And finally, a log of visa bulletin updates so far in FY2020, illustrating how EB-5 dates have moved this year.

About Suzanne (www.lucidtext.com)
Suzanne Lazicki is a business plan writer, EB-5 expert, and founder of Lucid Professional Writing. Contact me at suzanne@lucidtext.com (626) 660-4030.

15 Responses to Interpreting the Visa Bulletin

  1. Patty says:

    Thank you. This is very straightforward, easy to understand. I’m a Vietnamese investor with FAD 4/26/17, filed AOS i-485 on 10/10/19. Should I expect my GC issued in the next couple months?

    • I think you can. The processing element of I-485 typically doesn’t take much over six months, and Vietnam looks likely to have a FAD past your priority date in July 2020 visa bulletin, judging by recent movement. Unless the consulate in Vietnam starts giving appointments this month/next month, unlocking competitive Vietnam demand from the National Visa Center, but that seems unlikely.

  2. Vaibhav Gupta says:

    Hi Suzanne,

    Your analysis as always is very insightful. I have a priority date of September’18 and my sister has a date of April’18 for our i526. We are from India living in the US. Have been waiting for a while now but no movement on the case status page. Based on your industry experience as well as anecdotal knowledge do you have any estimates on when we could potentially see our i526 approved. Even a range would be helpful.

    Thanks,
    Vaibhav

  3. DAZHONG LI says:

    Hi Suzanne,
    Your analyses are as brilliant and original as ever. My priority date is Sep 2016. I come from China and study in the US now. I want to submit AOS i-485 in the US, and the Chinese priority date is Dec15, 2015 in the Visa AOS now. How many months do I have to wait? Help me predict please.Thanks.
    Best Wishes,
    Dazhong

    • Approximately 6,000 China I-526 were filed between December 2015 and September 2016, which should result in over 12,000 visa applicants, minimum. Historically, about 10% of Chinese visas have been adjustment of status, so estimate at least 1,200 potential applicants in front of you in the U.S. If the thousands of FY2020 visas available to China must be issued through adjustment of status, your turn could come before September.

  4. Khoa says:

    Hi Suzanne,
    Based on chart B of Log of FY2020 Visa Bulletin EB-5, do you think Vietnam nation with approved I-526 can file form I-485 right now? Can you share the link where you get the log from? My lawyer from Greenberg Traurig is telling me I cannot at this time.
    Thanks,

    • Thank you very much for this comment, as it helped me catch an error in my post. In the log of visa bulletin dates, I had entered Chart B for status adjustment in May 2020, but in fact it should be Chart A. This link will always specify whether Chart A or Chart B determines the window for I-485 filing for a given month: https://www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo. So you could only file I-485 if your priority date is before April 22, 2017 — the final action date for Vietnam. I will correct the post.

      • Patty says:

        In the last 3 years, USCIS only allows using chart B for AOS filing when the VISA numbers are still plenty in first several months of the new FY (From October to March or April)

  5. Lucas says:

    Hi Suzanne,
    Thank you so much for the insightful analysis. I’m a mainland Chinese investor with a priority date in early December, 2015. I have already submitted fees to the national visa center for consular process. I currently reside in the United States and I am wondering if there’s any theory on when can the final action date for mainland Chinese investors can be advanced to December 2015 or if it’s possible or advised to switch from consular process to adjustment of status should the USCIS decide to move this years Visa quota to Adjustment of Status investors to preserve this years visa numbers. Thank you so much!

    • These are definitely questions to discuss with your lawyer. It is possible to switch from consular processing to AOS, and I guess the lawyer will advise you to do so if opportunity arises. But it would take very exceptional circs to quickly move the China FAD from July to December 2015, considering that those months were EB-5’s biggest-ever filing surge, with over 10,000 Chinese I-526 filed during those months. And now that USCIS closed Chart B for adjustment of status, I don’t expect to see Chart B available again until after September. If you need more info on the numbers side, consider my timing consultation service: https://blog.lucidtext.com/resources/eb-5-timing-estimates/ China timing estimates are tough, but I’ve done a lot of work in this area.

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