Providing Clarity on the Visa Bulletin Dual Chart System07 Sep 2016
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) visa bulletin changed to a dual chart system as of the October 2015 Visa Bulletin. Almost a year since this change went into effect, however, there continues to be a great deal of confusion over when the cutoff dates in the various charts may be used.
Family-Based and Employment-Based Charts
The DOS visa bulletin has always included separate charts for family-based (FB) cases and employment-based (EB) cases. The charts reflect the particular FB or EB category in the left-side column and the country/ies of chargeability at the top. The chart is a grid, with a date (or the notation “C,” for current) in the box, corresponding to the category and country of chargeability. This date is known as the cutoff date.
Cutoff Dates Determine I-485 Filings and Approvals
A person’s priority date is compared to the corresponding cutoff date to determine whether the individual may file an adjustment-of-status application (form I-485) that month. An I-485 typically can be filed only if the priority date is earlier than the cutoff date. It also determines whether a pending I-485 can be approved. The same information reflects whether an immigrant visa may be issued to an applicant who is processing for permanent residence from abroad.
More information on the visa bulletin and the priority date system is provided in the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, Priority Dates: How Does the Visa Bulletin Work? (27.Oct.2015).
Dual Chart System
Since October 2015, the visa bulletin has provided two separate charts for the FB categories and two for the EB categories. The FB and EB categories each have charts labeled “dates for filing” (DF) and another labeled “final action” (FA). The cutoff dates in the DF chart generally are more favorable than those in the FA chart. But, unlike the FA chart, the DF chart cannot always be used as a basis for filing an I-485 application; and, for those applying for consular processing, the DF chart is only ever used to indicate when the applicant should be notified to assemble and submit the required documents to the National Visa Center.
USCIS Determines Whether DF Chart May Be Used
The main reason for confusion over the dual chart visa bulletin system is a lack of understanding as to which chart can be used in a given month. As indicated above, the FA chart can always be used. The more favorable DF chart, on the other hand, can only be used if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) permits its use for that month. Within a few days or a week of the monthly visa bulletin being released, the USCIS updates a dedicated webpage to indicate whether the DF charts for the EB and/or FB categories may be used as a basis for filing an I-485 application. If the USCIS does not permit the DF chart to be used that month, than stakeholders are forced to use the cutoff dates in the FA chart.
For FB cases, the USCIS has allowed foreign nationals to use the DF chart a number of times. For EB cases, however, the USCIS has not permitted the use of the DF chart since November 2015.
The visa bulletin system is vitally important to most foreign nationals who are seeking to become lawful permanent residents of the United States. So, it is helpful to understand how the dual chart system functions and which cutoff dates can be used in any given month.
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