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Understanding Immigrant Visa Allocation and Processing Times: A Story of Supply and Demand

The Visa Bulletin, released by the Department of State each month, reports the availability of employment-based and family-sponsored immigrant visas. If you have applied for permanent residence based on your employment in the United States or on a U.S. citizen relative, then you probably are aware of the Visa Bulletin. However, many people have difficulty understanding the Visa Bulletin and the allocation of immigrant visas. At the Law Firm of Shihab & Associates, our attorneys have decades of combined experience in reading, understanding and interpreting the visa bulletin. Contact us to learn more about immigrant visa allocation and processing times and how it affects you.


The availability of employment-based immigrant visas boils down to simple supply and demand. Congress sets a numerical limit on the number of immigrant visas that may be issued each fiscal year (beginning October 1). The number of available immigrant visas is then divided among each visa preference category (EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, F-1, F-2, F-3, etc.). Furthermore, each nation is allocated a specific percentage of the total number of immigrant visas available for each visa preference category. Finally, the total number of immigrant visas available for a particular category and nation in a given fiscal year is further divided into the months of the fiscal year. This is the monthly “supply” of employment-based immigrant visas available.

Employment-Based Immigrant Visas

The number of employment-based immigrant visas is limited to 140,000 per year. This numerical limitation is allocated among these employment-based categories:

First Preference Employment-Based (EB-1) Immigrant Visas
Second Preference Employment-Based (EB-2) Immigrant Visas
Third Preference Employment-Based (EB-3) Immigrant Visas
Other Workers Category of (EB-3) Immigrant Visas
Fourth Preference Employment-Based (EB-4) Immigrant Visas
Fifth Preference Employment-Based (EB-5) Immigrant Visas

Family-Sponsored Immigrant Visas

There are unlimited green cards available for “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens, including unmarried children under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen, parents of a U.S. citizen, and spouses of U.S. citizens. Thus, the visa category for immediate relatives is not reflected on the Visa Bulletin. However, for applicants of a family-sponsored immigrant visa in a preference category, the annual numerical limit is set at 226,000. For more information about the categories of family-sponsored immigrant visas, click here.


In order to obtain an employment-based or family-sponsored green card in the United States, an immigrant visa for which you applied must be available to you at the time of filing and at the time your case is adjudicated. This creates the “demand” for employment-based immigrant visas. Thus, in order to receive an immigrant visa immediately, the supply of that particular immigrant visa must match the demand both when you file and when your case is being decided. When supply matches demand, the immigrant visa is considered “current” (indicated by a “C” on the Visa Bulletin), meaning a green card is immediately available to you. In the popular immigrant visa categories in certain nations, demand often exceeds the supply.

Demand > Supply

If the demand for a particular visa category from a particular nation exceeds the supply of available visas in that visa category and nation, then that visa category is considered “oversubscribed.” The visa petitions in excess of the numerical limitation are placed in a queue (wait list). Your place in the queue is based on your priority date, which is usually the date your petition was properly filed with the USCIS for family-sponsored visas and some employment-based visas or the date when your labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor for employment-based immigrant visas requiring an LCA. When a visa category is oversubscribed, a cut-off date is set.

Cut-off Date

When looking at the Visa Bulletin, the “cut-off date” is the date that corresponds with a particular immigrant visa category. The cut-off date represents the date when demand exceeds supply. In order for you to adjust your status to legal permanent residence, your priority date must fall before the cut-off date

As reflected in the Visa Bulletin, the cut-off dates are adjusted monthly by the Department of State Visa Office. The VO changes the priority date cut-off depending on such factors as: the number of visas in a particular category and nation that have already been allocated to that point, the anticipated demand for that particular visa and nation, and the number of visas remaining in that particular category and nation under the annual numerical limits. Typically, the cut-off date will progress forward from one month to the next. Sometimes, it will move slowly or remain stagnant. However, if demand exceeds the number of available visas for that month, the cut-off date will retrogress to a previous date. To learn more about retrogression, click here.

If your case is stuck in limbo and cannot be adjudicated due to non-availability of a visa, contact The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates to speak with one of our experienced attorneys about the possibility of employing a different visa strategy to advance your case.

Contact Us

We rigorously track the Visa Bulletin to help you stay apprised of immigrant visa processing times. If you would like to consult with one of our experienced attorneys to learn more about your priority date and green card eligibility, contact us today.

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