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The U.S. Department of State (DOS) issues a monthly publication known as the visa bulletin, which contains detailed information on the availability of immigrant visa numbers. The United States has placed legal limits on how many foreign nationals may immigrate permanently each year. These limits apply to the employment-based (EB), family-based (FB), and diversity lottery (DV) categories. Information needed to determine the availability of a visa number for a particular case type can be found in the charts published in the visa bulletin.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) includes a complex system for controlling rates of permanent immigration. The INA has set annual limits as well as per-category and per-country allocations of the limited pool of visa numbers. Eligibility within the EB and FB preference categories is determined by the date that a case was initiated, submitting the first appropriate filing to either the USCIS or the DOL. This filing date is known as the priority date. In each edition of the visa bulletin, there are charts that list dates by category and country under the EB and FB categories. The dates in the charts are known as cutoff dates. To be eligible for a visa number, one's priority date must fall prior to the cutoff date. This is known as being current. The system for the allocation of DV numbers operates in a different manner, and is explained in the visa bulletin.
The demand for visa numbers has historically been more than the available supply in the FB preference categories. The same is true of the EB3 and EB2 categories for those individuals from India and China. If demand exceeds supply in certain areas, these categories are described as being oversubscribed. The cutoff dates in the visa bulletin are established by the DOS and based upon estimates of demand.
The Department of State has available a recorded message with visa availability information that can be heard at 202.663.1541. As with the visa bulletin, this recording is updated several weeks prior to the month for which the cutoff date information is applicable.