USCIS & DOS Announce Revised Procedures for Determining Visa Availability with Release of October 2015 Visa Bulletin

WHAT'S HAPPENING

U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS) have formally announced that the agencies will be revising their procedures for determining visa availability for applicants waiting to file for employment-based or family-based applications for permanent residence (“green cards”).  This announcement comes in conjunction with DOS’s release of the October 2015 Visa Bulletin.  

WHAT THIS MEANS

Beginning with the October 2015 Visa Bulletin, DOS will now publish two sets of dates each month for both family-based and employment-based immigrant visas. The first set of dates will list the “Application Final Action Dates,” which track actual visa availability similar to the current system and indicate when an applicant’s immigrant visa or green card can be issued. The second set of dates will list “Dates for Filing Applications,” which will be an earlier date indicating when applicants will be able to file their applications for permanent residence,  although their applications will remain pending until the “Final Action” date becomes current.

In addition to providing a significant benefit to individuals faced with long backlogs by allowing them to file their applications for permanent residence earlier, the hope is that this new process will allow DOS to better predict immigrant visa demand.

WHO THIS HELPS

Under the reformed system, if an individual applicant has a "priority date" earlier than the date listed under the Visa Bulletin’s "Date for Filing Applications" for their preference category and country of chargeability, they will be able to file their applications for permanent residence. Applicants will still have to wait for the "Application Final Action” date to become current before their applications can be adjudicated.  This earlier filing date, however, will potentially provide major benefits to applicants who are currently facing long backlogs due to unavailability of visas for their preference category and country of chargeability.

The most significant impact will be the ability for applicants to apply for interim work and travel authorization for themselves and their spouses earlier than under the old system.  This will accord applicants and their dependent family members (who may have been in visa categories that did not provide employment authorization for spouses) the ability to work while they await issuance of their green cards.  Additionally, under the new system, foreign national employees will have greater flexibility to change jobs. Employment-based green card applications become “portable” once an applicant’s adjustment of status application has been pending for 180 days. Thus, the ability to file adjustment of status applications earlier will allow applicants to avoid starting the green card process over again if there are significant changes to their role with their sponsoring employer, their sponsoring employer goes out of business, or they wish move to a new job.

USCIS has published additional guidance about when applicants can file their applications for adjustment of status under the new system. D&S will continue to provide updates as further guidance from USCIS and DOS regarding filing procedures under the new system is released.

D&S provides a Monthly Summary of the family and employment based priority dates as they are published.