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The visa bulletin is a chart that is published monthly by the State Department to let the public know when “immigrant visas” (or “green cards”) are available for certain categories of green card applicants. These categories of green card applicants are known as the “preference categories.” 

There are both employment-based and family-based preference categories. Preference categories are defined by the fact that the law allocates a limited number of green cards to these categories annually.

From our team of Pelton + Balducci immigration attorneys here in Louisiana, here’s what to know about the visa bulletin and how to use it for your immigration journey.

What is the Visa Bulletin?

There is a limit to the number of family-based and employment-based green cards the government can issue each year. These limits apply to beneficiaries of “immigrant” (or “green card”) petitions that fall within the preference categories. 

Both employment- and family-based green card cases can be very generally divided into a two-step process:

  1. First, a “petitioner” (a family member or employer) files a petition on behalf of a “beneficiary” (the foreign national) to establish the required relationship to establish eligibility to apply for permanent residency. Family members must establish a qualifying relationship with the beneficiary, while employers must establish a qualifying employment opportunity for the beneficiary. 
  2. If the required relationship is established, then the petition will be approved and the beneficiary can move on to the second step of the process: filing the green card application. In the application, the beneficiary must essentially prove that there is nothing that would disqualify them from green card eligibility. 

Note that the “petition” and the “application” are separate steps.

Family-based petitions are filed on form I-130, while employment-based petitions are filed on form I-140. 

If green cards run out for the preference categories, beneficiaries cannot be issued green cards even if their petitions have been approved. They must wait for green cards to become available, and this wait often lasts years, and in certain instances can even extend into decades. In some instances, discussed below, beneficiaries with an approved petition can apply for the green cards, even if the green cards are not immediately available.

Special Rule for "Immediate Relatives"

Not all beneficiaries of I-130 petitions are subject to the annual limits on green cards. 

These limits do NOT apply to beneficiaries immigration law defines as “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives include:

  1. spouses of U.S. citizens, 
  2. unmarried children of U.S. citizens (a “child” is defined as a person under the age of 21 years old); and
  3. parents of US citizens who are older than 21 years old.

There is NO limit to the number of green cards that can be issued to immediate relatives.

Preference Categories

All other family-based categories and all employment-based categories fall into the “preference categories”, which means that there are legal limits on the number of green cards available to these categories annually.

Family Preference Categories

There are four family-based preference categories. Note, however, that the second category (F2) is divided into two categories (F2A and F2B).

  • First: (F1) Unmarried “Sons” and “Daughters” of U.S. Citizens. In immigration law, “Sons” and “Daughters” refers to children 21 years old and older. 23,400 visas are allocated to this category annually, plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.
  • Second: Spouses and Children (under 21 years old and unmarried), and Unmarried” Sons and Daughters” of Permanent Residents (“Sons and Daughters” refers to children over 21; however, for F2B eligibility, they must also remain unmarried.). 114,200 visas are allocated to the second preference, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused first preference numbers:
    • (F2A) Spouses and Children (Under 21 years old and unmarried) of Permanent Residents. F2A receives 77% of the visas allotted to the second preference.
    • (F2B) Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents. F2B receives the remaining 23% of visas allotted to the second preference.
  • Third: (F3) Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens:  23,400 visas are allocated to this group, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.
  • Fourth: (F4) Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens (i.e., over 21 years old):  65,000 visas are allocated to this group, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences.

Employment-Based Preference Categories

Like with family-based preference categories, there are several different types of applications for employment-based visas. They are as follows: 

  • First (EB-1): “Priority Workers”: These include:
    • individuals of “Extraordinary Ability” (EB-1A); 
    • “Outstanding Professors and Researchers (EB-1B); and 
    • “Multinational Managers or Executives” (EB-1C).
      These are allocated 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference visas, plus any numbers not required for fourth and fifth preferences.
  • Second (EB-2):  Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees (Master’s or higher) or Persons of Exceptional Ability. This includes individuals who “self-petition” using the National Interest Waiver (NIW). 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based visas is allocated to this category, plus any numbers not required by first preference.
  • Third (EB-3):  Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers:  “Professionals” are individuals who have a bachelor’s degree or higher. “Skilled” and “Other” workers need not have a Bachelor’s, but must satisfy other criteria. 28.6% of the worldwide level of employment-based visas is allocated to this category, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences. Other workers cannot receive more than 10,000 of these visas
  • Fourth:  Certain Special Immigrants:  7.1% of the worldwide level. This is a classification that includes a “grab bag” of immigrant category, including, but not limited to, certain religious workers and “special immigrant juveniles”.
  • Fifth:  Employment Creation:  7.1% of the worldwide level, of which 32% are reserved as follows: 20% reserved for qualified immigrants who invest in a rural area; 10% reserved for qualified immigrants who invest in a high unemployment area; and 2% reserved for qualified immigrants who invest in infrastructure projects. The remaining 68% are unreserved and are allotted for all other qualified immigrants.

How Many Green Cards are Available to “Preference Categories”?

The quota for the family-sponsored preference categories is limited to 226,000 green cards per year. The quota for the employment-based preference categories is at least 140,000 green cards per year. A new batch of green cards becomes available each fiscal year (i.e., on October 1).

Contact Pelton + Balducci Immigration Attorneys Today

At Pelton + Balducci, we understand that the path to immigration can be confusing and time-consuming. Our experienced Louisiana immigration attorneys are dedicated to guiding people from all walks of life through this process and to their new home in the U.S.

If you have questions about the visa bulletin, your application, or whether you qualify, we’re here to help. Contact Pelton + Balducci today to schedule your consultation. 

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