As many of you know, the October 2020 Visa Bulletin is out and there is some significant movement of priority dates in Employment based category for EB3, especially for Indian nationals under the “Dates for Filing” chart. There was some confusion created by USCIS first telling you need to use the “Final Action Date” and later updating that you can use “Dates for Filing” Chart. In this article, we will look at the differences and how the different dates thing works. Why they move back and forth and how it impacts the priority dates.
If you are new to the Green Card process and have not heard some of the terms like country caps, priority dates or numerical limits, read Green Card Numerical Limits, Country Caps, Priority Date to get an idea.
Background for Dates for Filing & Final Action Dates
US Department of State introduced the concept of “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing” only from October 2015 Visa Bulletin. If you check any of the previous editions of Visa Bulletin like September 2015 Visa Bulletin, you would not find two charts or two dates listed. There was only one chart and one date, which was just called priority date.
US Department of State(DOS) introduced the concept of two dates to align procedures of Immigrant Visas (Green Card) at US Consulates abroad with USCIS adjustment of status application procedures. Also, with two dates, US Dept of State would be able to more accurately predict the demand and supply of Green Card numbers. It will help them issue maximum number of Green Cards per year, without wasting them, as per Congress guidance. These were all introduced as part of Obama plan for modernizing legal immigration in 2015
Now that you have some background on why two dates, next we need to understand how the Green Cards numbers are reported, collated and further predicted. This will help you better understand how the “Dates for Filing” and “Final Action Dates” movement.
How are Green Card or Immigrant Visas count Reported, Predicted?
The Visa Office (VO) that is part of US Department of State (DOS) handles the green card numbers reporting and prediction. Every month the Visa Office gets a report of total number of immigrant visa (Green Card) applicants from all US consulates & Embassies across the globe. Also, they get the number of pending applications of adjustment of status from USCIS. The process of prediction is pretty complicated. But for your easy understanding, we have tried to simplify it as below.
First, when a fiscal year starts in October, VO divides the total annual available Green Card numbers into monthly allotments. They will predict the number of Green Cards available for the upcoming months, until the end of fiscal year, based on below three data points.
- Qualified Immigrant Visa Applicants count received from US Consulates
- Pending Adjustment of Status applicants count received from USCIS
- Historical counts of Denials, Abandonments and withdrawals.
Depending on how the above three numbers vary, you would see movement of the priority dates. We will look more details below, let’s dive into the dates of filing and final action dates and how they move.
You may also watch the below video that covers the details in article.
What is “Dates for Filing” in Visa Bulletin ?
The “dates for filing application” or simply “dates for filing” in Visa bulletin are the earliest dates when Green Card Applicants may be able to apply for green card or immigrant visa. The dates for filing are typically used by National Visa Center (NVC) to notify immigrant visa applicants (green card applicants), who are outside of US to prepare themselves and submit all the relevant documents required for the Green Card Visa Interview at US Consulates. The dates of filing may also be used by USCIS asking Green Card applicants in US to submit applications for Adjustment of Status.
Let’s review, what ‘dates for filing’ mean for NVC, Consulates and USCIS.
Dates for Filing – NVC, Applicants Outside of US
For Consular processing Green Card applicants, after the green card application ( form I-130 or I-140 ) is approved by USCIS, it is sent to National Visa Center(NVC) for next steps. The NVC uses “Dates for Filing” from Visa Bulletin to notify applicants to start submitting the documents and work with them for all the required steps to make them ready for green card interview.
If you see below chart of Immigrant Visa Process, the steps from Step 2 to Step 9 are done by NVC for applicants who are applying for Green Card (immigrant visa) from outside of US. Once NVC receives all the documents in step 9 and they will mark them as “Documentarily Complete”. Basically, “documentarily complete” means that NVC has received all basic documents, fees and the applicant is ready to be interviewed when priority dates become current for that applicant.
NVC will also notify the applicants that their application is “Documentarily complete”. The applicants with status of “Documentary complete” are the ones that consulates report to Visa Office for Visa number predictions. No names are reported, but only the counts of applicants with that status at a consulate or embassy are reported.
Dates for Filing – USCIS, Applicants inside US
USCIS allows green card applicants inside US to apply for adjustment of Status to get Green Card, when their priority date is current. USCIS usually has a large pool of Green Card applicants that are pending with them and waiting for priority date to be current for issuance of green card.
USCIS in preparation for next fiscal year (starts from October 1st) will forecast how many applications they would need to meet the Green Card numerical limits by end of the fiscal year (September of next year). They usually look at their pending applicants count with them and forecast, if they have any shortage of applications. In cases, where they believe they do not have enough applications to fill the total numerical limit by end of fiscal year( next year September), they will ask green card applicants to use “Dates for Filing” to submit the adjustment of status applications. See below how it looks in a diagram
USCIS’s goal is to have sufficient number of applications so that they can issue maximum number of green cards by end of year and they do not get wasted. USCIS informs public at www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo on what dates to use for submitting adjustment of status applications. Usually, you see USCIS ask applicants to use “Dates for Filing” in the beginning months of the Fiscal year start (October, November). This is the same case with current October 2020 Visa Bulletin as well.
See below screenshot from USCIS website, where they ask applicants to use Date for Filing for October 2020.
See below screenshot from USCIS website, where they ask applicants to use Final Action dates for September 2020.
What are “Final Action Dates” in Visa Bulletin?
The “final action dates” or “application final action dates” are the dates when the actual green card numbers are available for that category & country of birth, so that the final green Cards or immigrant visas can be issued. You can think these dates as if your position in queue has reached the end and you are ready to get the green card. The priority dates that were used before introduction of two separate dates are nothing but the “final action dates”. Let’s review, what they mean for NVC, Consulates and USCIS.
Final Action Dates – NVC, US Consulates
The National Visa Center (NVC) that processes the green card applications, for consular processing petitions, will inform the green card applicants when the priority dates become current based on the “Final Action Dates” in Visa Bulletin. They will also work with consulates to schedule immigrant visa interview for these applicants based on the final action dates.
Final Action Dates , USCIS usage
USCIS uses “final action dates” as the default priority dates asking green card applicants to apply for Adjustment of status. If there are any exceptions for any month, they will specify them at www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo to use “filing dates”. Usually, if you see Visa Bulletin after the USCIS fiscal year starts after first couple of months(Oct, Nov), USCIS asks everyone to use final action dates. The reason is, most of the times USCIS receives enough number of applicants to fill the numerical limit of green cards for that year in the first one or two months, so they do not give option for early filing using “Filing dates”. See below how it looks in a diagram
Why do “Dates for Filing” and “Final Action Dates” fluctuate? Retrogress?
As you read from above, there are many factors considered for prediction of the green card applications required to meet the numerical limit. There are few scenarios on why ‘dates for filing & final action dates’ move forward or backward. Let’s look at them.
- Consulates Closed : if consulates are closed or not functioning fully, then the green cards that were supposed to be issued at a consulate are not used up as per previous years’ predictions. So, there is a surplus of Green Card numbers that Visa office gets. In this case, the priority dates move forward and USCIS could use “Dates for Filing” to get more applications. This is to make sure, no green cards are wasted.
- More applications filed – Retrogress: If there are much more green card applications filed than the actual available number of green cards, then Dept of State has to move the priority dates back ( also called as Retrogress) to make sure they do accurate prediction. If at any point of time the Green Cards are issued that are equal to country cap or numerical limit then Visa bulletin would show Green cards as Unavailable or show letter ‘U’
- Spill over from Family Based to employment Based : If family based green cards are not used up, like in current year with Trump Travel Ban for Immigrant Visa holders entry, then those spill over to Employment based category. In such cases, there are lot more green card numbers available for Employment based, so the Priority dates can move forward significant. In fact, for EB3, India the ‘dates for filing’ moved by 4 years 11 months primarily driven by the spill over from family-based categories.
In next articles, we will review October Visa Bulletin and other aspects of upgrading or downgrading, etc. stay tuned.
What do you think of the ‘dates for filing’ and ‘final action dates’ movement? Add your thoughts in comments below.