How to Read and Understand the Visa Bulletin

For anyone going through the green card process, you’re probably familiar or at least heard of the visa bulletin. The visa bulletin can be difficult to read and navigate. Here are some useful tips and a few examples.

The visa bulletin is issued every month by the Department of State and, simply put, it shows three things:

  1. Which categories are eligible for filing of the green card application (i.e. I-485 if you are in the U.S.).
  2. Which filed I-485 applications are ready for final review.
  3. How to estimate how long it will take you to get your green card based on current wait times.

Why does it exist? The number of green cards that can be issued each year is capped at 140,000. There’s also a limit per country, with each country holding 7% of the total. Because there’s a higher demand than available supply, there’s a backlog.

There are a few confusing terms in the visa bulletin. We’ll explain:

Priority Date: This is your place in line. It determines when you can file the green card application (I-485).

  1. For PERM-based I-140s, the priority date is the date PERM is filed.
  2. For non-PERM based I-140s (e.g. EB-1 or EB-2 NIW), the priority date is the date the I-140 is filed.

Retrogression: Movement in the visa bulletin is not always forward. It can slow down, stop, or retrogress. Retrogression is the priority date on the visa bulletin moving backwards due to increase in demand.

Cross-chargeability: If I-485s for you and your spouse are filed together, you can both use your spouse’s country of birth for filing the I-485s.

  • Example: Vijay was born in India and his spouse was born in the U.K. Vijay and his spouse can both file their I-485s based on the spouse’s U.K. country of birth.

There are also two charts on the visa bulletin to understand:

Final Action Dates for Employment-Based Preference Cases: This chart shows which priority date is ready for green card issuance.

Dates of Filing for Employment-Based Preference Cases: This chart shows when green card applications can be filed.
Each month, USCIS publishes whether they will use the “Final Action” chart or “Dates of Filing” chart to accept I-485 applications:


With those terms out of the way, let’s take a look at the four crucial steps in reading the visa bulletin.

Great! Now let’s take a look at an example of a test applicant, Anika, and see how her process might go.


Anika, EB-2 Applicant

Anika is interested in EB-2 NIW. Anika was born in India, and her spouse was born in Canada with no prior I-140 approval.

Step 1: Confirm which chart USCIS is using this month:

Step 2: Determine client’s Country of Birth and Employment-Based category. Remember to check for cross-chargeability!

  • If Anika is filing I-485 with spouse, can use spouse’s country of birth (Canada) under cross-chargeability.


Step 3: Confirm whether client has prior I-140 approval to see if priority date can be retained.

  • Anika does not have a prior I-140 approval.

Step 4: Look up the current Visa Bulletin

Conclusion: If Anika files I-485 with her Canadian born spouse, would be “current” for I-485 filing. She has the option to concurrently file EB-2 NIW and I-485.

The visa bulletin is by no means an easy read, and can require a lot of research in order to gain full understanding of your personal status. At Legalpad, we’re here to help! Drop us a line at and we’ll be happy to direct you to the right resources to find your status.