Author: Christina Herman

Visa Bulletin: Understand the Basics

What is the Visa Bulletin?

The Visa Bulletin is a tool for you and the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government can only give out a limited number of Green Cards (or Immigrant Visas or visa numbers) every year: 226,000 for Family-Based immigrants and 140,000 for Employment Based immigrants. The law limits how many can be used for each country and each category. However, there may be additional  visas in some fiscal years, as some unused visa numbers from the prior fiscal year can get carried over to the next fiscal year. The U.S. Government uses the Visa Bulletin to keep track of visa numbers and to give you a tool to determine when you can file your case and when your case can be approved. 

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TERMS YOU SHOULD KNOW TO USE DEPARTMENT OF STATE’S (DOS) VISA BULLETIN

Priority Date: The “Received Date” of I-130 or I-140 Immigrant Petition at USCIS. (One exception is if your I-140 is based on a Labor Certification, then it’s the LC filing date.)
Cutoff Date: The date printed in the boxes appearing in Visa Bulletin charts, which are not “Current.”
Current: Your Priority Date is a date earlier than the date printed in a box you find in a chart on the Visa Bulletin. Then (1) you file a Form I-485 Adjustment of Status application to USCIS, (2) USCIS can approve a pending Form I-485, or (3) a Consulate can issue your Green Card to you.
C: This means all Priority Dates are Current.
“Dates for Filing” Chart: Priority Dates earlier than the Cutoff Dates in this chart can gather and submit required documents to Department of State’s National Visa Center. NVC will tell you when you can begin submissions. You may be able to file a Form I-485 with USCIS.
“Final Actions Dates” Chart: Priority Dates earlier than the Cutoff Dates in this chart (1) can file an I-485 Application to USCIS, (2) USCIS can approve a pending Form I-485 or (3) a Consulate can issue your Green Card to you.
Visa Retrogression: This is when a priority date was Current in one month, but is no longer Current in the future month.

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How Does the Visa Bulletin Work?

Use the Visa Bulletin to understand what happens with the last stage of the Green Card process, whether you are going the path of filing a Form I-485 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or
Consular Processing through DOS to obtain an Immigrant Visa in your passport so that you can enter the U.S. as a permanent resident.

In the Visa Bulletin, you will see the top row listing countries and the left-hand column listing visa categories, like F1 or EB2. You take your Priority Date and look in the box under your Country of Birth and across to your visa category. If the date in the box comes after your date, then you may be able to file your case, depending on if you’re looking at the Final Action or Filing Dates charts. For example, if your Priority Date is September 1, 2013, in the F1 category and you were born in India, and you look at the October 2020 Visa Bulletin, your date is earlier than the Cutoff Date of September 14, 2015, for F1 India.

Can I File My Form I-485 Using the Dates for Filing Chart?

A person is not eligible to file a Form I-485 until the Visa Bulletin shows that his or her Priority Date is Current. Even though you use the Visa Bulletin to know if your Priority Date is Current, you are only allowed to file the I-485 Adjustment Application using the Filing Dates Chart when USCIS decides that it is permitted. The Visa Bulletin has a link to the USCIS website where they post the Adjustment of Status Filing Charts. If USCIS lists the Filing Dates Chart and someone’s Priority Date is current based on it, then they can file their Form I-485.

What Do I Need to Know About the October Visa Bulletin?

The October Visa Bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) marks the start of the new Fiscal Year (FY) for the U.S. Government – it runs from October 1 to the following September 30. For example, the FY2021 runs from October 1,2020, through September 30, 2021. The October Visa Bulletin shows forward movement of visa numbers for four reasons:

1. Each new FY starts with the full amount of visa numbers under the law.
2. Unused visa numbers from Family-Based immigration are added to the total Employment-Based numbers.
3. COVID-19 reduced the usage of Family-Based immigrant visa numbers because Consulates were closed, thus increasing the visa numbers added to Employment-Based immigration in the next year.
4. Travel bans enacted by the Trump administration reduced usage of visa numbers. With the continuation of the Trump administration’s travel bans and restrictions on travel and international movement because of COVID-19, the limited usage of Family-Based immigrant visa numbers by Consulates may continue. This will continue a trend of increasing Employment-Based immigrant visa numbers.

What Happens if Next Month’s Visa Bulletin Changes?

A new Visa Bulletin is issued every month that is in effect for that one month. Once that month is over, a new Visa Bulletin is in effect. If the new Visa Bulletin shows that your Priority Date is not Current then the Consulate cannot approve your Green Card, you cannot file your Form I-485, and USCIS cannot approve your filed application. For example, if your Priority Date is Current in October 2020, then you can file your Form I-485 with USCIS in October 2020. However, if the November 2020 Visa Bulletin changes and your Priority Date has retrogressed, then your Form I-485 cannot be accepted by USCIS or approved by USCIS in any part of the month. Similarly, in this example, someone applying at a Consulate can be issued the Green Card during October 2020 with a Current Priority Date. However, if a Priority Date is no longer Current in November 2020 and the individual was told to provide additional documents by the Consulate, the visa cannot be issued if they return in November even if they were interviewed in October.

What Is Our Office Doing?

The staff and attorneys at the Law Office of Fred Voigtmann are closely monitoring the monthly Visa Bulletin and encourage you to contact our office at (818) 887-7839 if you have any questions.

What You Need to Know About the New COVID-19 Immigration Laws

With the COVID-19 situation in the United States rapidly evolving on a daily basis, it is difficult to know what the current rules, regulations, processes and laws are as they relate to coronavirus and immigration. 

On June 22, 2020, the White House issued an Executive Order suspending H, J and L Visas. This Executive Order went into effect on June 24 and will remain until December 31, 2020. Modifications can be made to this order as necessary beginning July 22, 2020, and continuing every 60 days thereafter. 

Shortly after, on July 6, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced that, to slow the spread of coronavirus in America, international exchange students may not take a complete course load online and remain in the United States. However, on July 14, federal officials decided to reverse the SEVP mandate for F-1 visas. Students with F-1 visas will continue to be allowed to stay in the United States or return to the United States for either online or in-person courses. Continuing students will not be required to register for an in-person course to maintain F-1 status. Continuing students who wish to remain outside of the U.S. for autumn quarter and take online courses will be allowed to maintain their F status as long as they continue to follow all F visa regulations.

These are complicated mandates that are confusing to many on their immigration journey. As you can see, the regulations can change from one day to the next with little warning. Our team at the Law Office of Fred Voigtmann is staying up-to-date on the latest news and regulations pertaining to immigration cases and coronavirus in order to best assist current and prospective clients. 

Continue reading for frequently asked questions about these new mandates and their answers to help clarify many of the concerns we’ve been addressing with our clients. If you would like to speak in depth about your specific case with an attorney, please schedule a free consultation.

What You Need to Know About the Executive Order on H, J, and L Visa Issuance

Q. Which employment-based are affected by this mandate?

A. Nonimmigrant visas to foreign nationals have been suspended, including specialty occupation visas, non-agricultural visas, J visas in the intern, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel programs and visas for multinational managers/executives or specialized knowledge visas.

Q. I have a pending change of status application. Does the executive order affect me?

A. No. By its terms, the executive order applies only to visa issuance outside of the United States.  Changes of status applications/petitions in the United States can still be approved.

Q. I am outside the United States, but I already have a valid H, J, or L visa. Can I enter?

A. Yes. The executive order does not apply to persons who already have valid visas.

Q. Can I get an exemption because I am employed in the healthcare or food service industries?

A. Yes, it is possible to apply for an exemption under certain circumstances. If the exemption is approved, you can obtain a H, J, or L visa and enter the United States.

Q. Does the executive order apply to dependents such as one’s spouse and children?

A. Yes, issuance of dependent visas, such as H-4, J-2, or L-2, is also banned until 2021.

Read more about this proclamation at WhiteHouse.gov.

What You Need to Know About the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Announcement on F-1 Students

Because the situation with coronavirus and immigration is constantly changing, there is a lot of confusion about what the most current regulations are. Here are some of the frequently asked questions and their answers as of this writing on July 15, 2020:

Q. What are F and M Visas?

A. International students who wish to pursue a full-time education at a university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory or another academic institution, including a language training program, in the United States need to be issued an F-1 visa. Those interested in attending a vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, other than a language training program, will need an M visa.

Q. Will I have to leave the country if my school is offering only online classes for Fall 2020?

A. No. Because the original mandate issued on July 6 has been reversed, students with F-1 visas do not need to leave the United States. Students are able to continue their education full-time online and remain in the country.

Q. Are students attending schools that are entirely online barred from attending that school?

A. No. Students can continue to study at their school, even if the courses are exclusively online, and continue to live in America.

Q. Can continuing F and M students study online outside the United States and remain in Active status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)? Are designated school officials (DSOs) responsible for maintaining these records?

A. Yes, continuing F and M students may remain in Active SEVIS status while studying online, outside the United States. As these students remain Active in SEVIS, DSOs are responsible for maintaining these student records.

Q. My school has switched to fully online instruction but not all courses will be offered; some courses will be canceled due to inability to deliver via online means. Can I be excused from meeting full course of study requirements if the classes I need are not being offered?

A. Yes, full course of study requirements can be waived as a direct result of the impact from COVID-19. This information should be reported in a school’s procedural change documents submitted to SEVP.  You should contact your DSO and confirm that such information has been reported to SEVP.

Q. Will I be able to return to the United States if my school resumes on-campus class offerings?

A. Yes.  As long as you have or are able to obtain an F-1 or M-1 visa, you should be allowed to return to the United States to resume your studies.

Q. What happens if I am physically unable to return to school once in-class instruction resumes?

A. Once a school returns to normal operations, if students cannot or choose not to return to the United States to study, DSOs are expected to terminate the records.

The most up-to-date information about the SEVP directive can be found on ICE.gov.