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Understanding the Visa Bulletin for March 2019


The U.S. Department of State released its Visa Bulletin for March 2019. That’s a big deal if you’re waiting for your priority date to be current so that your green card application can move forward.

If you don’t know what a “visa bulletin” or a “priority date” is, we’ve got you covered. Start by checking out the Boundless guide on How to Read the Visa Bulletin.

If you’re already familiar with those terms, skip ahead to our summary of key developments or to the filing category that’s most relevant to you:

Family-based categories

Employment-based categories

Now let’s continue…

The Bottom Line

The March 2019 Visa Bulletin brings some new movement in wait times for both the family- (“F”) and employment-based (“EB”) green card categories.

The following key developments combine analysis by Boundless and insight from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), which checks in every month with Charles “Charlie” Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division at the U.S. Department of State, for his assessment of “current trends and future projections.”

In family-based categories:

  • Movement is strong in the family-based categories, especially for the F-2B and F-4 groups. Several countries in each of these categories advanced 3 months, the biggest forward leap since October 2018, when the fiscal year began. The last advance of at least 3 months for families occurred in September 2018 (3.5 months) but only for unmarried Filipino children aged 21 and older of U.S. citizens.
  • A welcome change, Mexican families finally gain traction in the F-2B and F-3 categories following a persistent logjam. Married Mexican children of U.S. citizens had made no forward progress since the start of the 2019 fiscal year. AILA notes that F-3 movement “was made possible by a decline in demand for cases being processed at Ciudad Juarez” and added that “there is a potential for higher levels of demand pending final action at [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)],” according to Oppenheim.
  • Filipino siblings of U.S. citizens (F-4) continue to make healthy progress, moving forward by over 4 months, after a nearly 1-year leap in February. The movement in F-4, in addition to the 3-month advance in the F-3 category, reflect low demand but a large number of approvals for applicants who have stalled on their own progress, AILA noted.
  • According to AILA, applicants — especially in the family-based categories — continue to respond poorly to Form DS-3032 (officially called the “Choice of Address and Agent” form). As a result, the State Department may need to significantly advance cut-off dates, though that action may in turn result in longer lines or even retrogression (backward movement).

In employment-based categories:

  • Both Chinese and Indian workers in the EB-3 category remain ahead of those in the EB-2 category, though it is unclear whether the pattern will continue for India.
  • Demand for Filipino workers in the EB-3 category is also “below target demand,” which triggered a 4-month advance to attract more applicants. Oppenheim told AILA he is concerned that applicants may experience a similar pattern seen in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, when low demand triggered a sharp advancement of the cut-off dates and resulted in a surge that led to a 7-year retrogression.
  • In the EB-4 category, Mexico continues to make steady progress, while Central America stalls again and dates for all other countries remain current.
  • EB-5 China advances by a week following a gap in movement since January due to the expiration of government funding for the I5 and R5 categories, which were reauthorized after the March Visa Bulletin was published.

Wonky technical note: This post focuses on the “Final Action Dates” in the Visa Bulletin because these dates are most relevant for figuring out when applicants will ultimately receive their green cards.

USCIS announces every month, however, whether applicants should file their “adjustment of status” applications (those for immigrants already residing in the United States) based on the “Final Action Dates” or the “Dates for Filing.”

For such applications filed in March, family-based visa applicants must use the “Dates for Filing” (available on the State Department’s website), whereas employment-based visa applicants must use the “Final Action Dates.” Applicants filing from abroad must follow the Final Action Dates.

Read on for details…


Family-Based Green Card Backlogs

F-1: UNMARRIED CHILDREN (AGE 21 AND OLDER) OF U.S. CITIZENS

CountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
General Category22-Oct-1122-Sep-11–1 month
China22-Oct-1122-Sep-11–1 month
India22-Oct-1122-Sep-11–1 month
Mexico1-Aug-971-Aug-97No change
Philippines1-Apr-0715-Mar-07– 2 weeks, 3 days

Movement in this category is very similar to that in February. Mexico makes no progress for the eighth consecutive month:

  • One-month advance for the general category, China, and India
  • No forward movement for Mexico
  • Two-week, 3-day advance for the Philippines

F-2A: SPOUSES AND UNMARRIED CHILDREN (UNDER AGE 21) OF U.S. GREEN CARD HOLDERS

CountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
General Category8-Jan-171-Dec-16–1 month, 1 week
China8-Jan-171-Dec-16–1 month, 1 week
India8-Jan-171-Dec-16–1 month, 1 week
Mexico15-Dec-1615-Nov-16–1 month
Philippines8-Jan-171-Dec-16–1 month, 1 week

Movement is stronger in this category this month, but Mexico makes slightly less progress than the rest, a reversal from February:

  • One-and-a-half-month advance for the general category, China, India, and the Philippines
  • One-month advance for Mexico

F-2B: UNMARRIED CHILDREN (AGE 21 OR OLDER) OF U.S. GREEN CARD HOLDERS

CountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
General Category1-Aug-121-May-12–3 months
China1-Aug-121-May-12–3 months
India1-Aug-121-May-12–3 months
Mexico22-Sep-9722-Jun-97–3 months
Philippines22-Jul-071-Jul-07–3 weeks

This month, most countries in this category double their forward movement in February. Mexico, however, shows strongest movement, leaping forward by 3 months, compared with only 2 weeks in February:

  • Three-month advance for the general category, China, India, and Mexico
  • Three-week advance for the Philippines

F-3: MARRIED CHILDREN OF U.S. CITIZENS

CountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
General Category8-Sep-0622-Aug-06– 2 weeks, 3 days
China8-Sep-0622-Aug-06– 2 weeks, 3 days
India8-Sep-0622-Aug-06– 2 weeks, 3 days
Mexico15-Jan-9622-Dec-95–3 weeks, 3 days
Philippines1-Jan-9622-Aug-95–4 months, 1 week, 3 days

All countries in this category advance, with strongest movement for the Philippines. Mexico finally makes progress after a 5-month standstill:

  • Two-and-a-half-week advance for the general category, China, and India
  • Three-and-a-half-week advance for Mexico
  • Over 4-month advance for the Philippines

F-4: SIBLINGS OF U.S. CITIZENS

CountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
General Category22-Sep-0522-Jun-05–3 months
China22-Sep-0522-Jun-05–3 months
India8-Jul-0422-Jun-04–2 weeks, 2 days
Mexico8-Feb-988-Feb-98No change
Philippines1-Jan-961-Oct-95–3 months

Most countries in this category make much healthier advances than in February, while Mexico makes no progress for the fourth month in a row:

  • Three-month advance for the general category, China, and the Philippines
  • Over 2-week advance for India
  • No movement for Mexico

Employment-Based Green Card Backlogs

EB-1: EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE, OUTSTANDING RESEARCHERS AND PROFESSORS, AND MULTINATIONAL EXECUTIVES AND MANAGERS

CountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
General Category1-Jan-181-Oct-17–3 months
China22-Feb-1715-Dec-16–2 months, 1 week
Central America1-Jan-181-Oct-17–3 months
India22-Feb-1715-Dec-16–2 months, 1 week
Mexico1-Jan-181-Oct-17–3 months
Philippines1-Jan-181-Oct-17–3 months
Vietnam1-Jan-181-Oct-17–3 months

Movement is strong for everyone in this category, though China and India show slightly weaker progress:

  • Three-month advance for the general category, Central America, Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam
  • More than 2-month advance for China and India

EB-2: EXCEPTIONAL PEOPLE AND ADVANCED DEGREE HOLDERS

CountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
General CategoryNo waitNo waitNo change
China1-Jan-161-Oct-15–3 months
Central AmericaNo waitNo waitNo change
India9-Apr-096-Apr-09–3 days
MexicoNo waitNo waitNo change
PhilippinesNo waitNo waitNo change
VietnamNo waitNo waitNo change

Mostly good news in this category, with no lines for nearly all countries except China and India:

  • Dates remain current for the general category, Central America, Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam — no wait, celebrate!
  • Three-month advance for China
  • Three-day advance for India

EB-3: BACHELOR’S DEGREE HOLDERS, SKILLED WORKERS, AND UNSKILLED WORKERS

CountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
General CategoryNo waitNo waitNo change
China8-Jul-151-Jul-15–1 week
Central AmericaNo waitNo waitNo change
India22-May-0922-Apr-09–1 month
MexicoNo waitNo waitNo change
Philippines1-Dec-171-Aug-17–4 months
VietnamNo waitNo waitNo change

No lines for half of the countries in this category, plus the general category, a trend that started at the beginning of the new fiscal year. Lines for India and China advance at a slightly weaker pace than in February, while the Philippines shows strongest movement:

  • Dates still current for the general category, Central America, Mexico, and Vietnam
  • One-week advance for China
  • One-month advance for India
  • Four-month advance for the Philippines

Finally, just to be complete about all of this: The no-line pattern of previous months continues for EB-4 “special immigrants” from the general category, China, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The line stalls again for Central America (a reversal of the previous month), while Mexico advances at a steady clip. In the EB-5 investor category, only China and Vietnam continue to have uncleared backlogs, though China shows some progress.

CategoryCountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
EB-4: Special ImmigrantsGeneral CategoryNo waitNo waitNo change
ChinaNo waitNo waitNo change
Central America1-Mar-161-Mar-16No change
IndiaNo waitNo waitNo change
Mexico1-Jan-181-Sep-17–4 months
PhilippinesNo waitNo waitNo change
VietnamNo waitNo waitNo change
CategoryCountryNew Cut-off DateOld Cut-off DateChange in Wait Time
EB-5: InvestorsGeneral CategoryNo waitNo waitNo change
China8-Sep-141-Sep-14–1 week
Central AmericaNo waitNo waitNo change
IndiaNo waitNo waitNo change
MexicoNo waitNo waitNo change
PhilippinesNo waitNo waitNo change
Vietnam15-Jul-1615-Jun-16–1 month

Why This Matters

If you’re in line for a green card, it’s important to keep track of actual changes (and likely future developments) in the Visa Bulletin. It’s always a good idea to prepare all the documents needed for your green card application ahead of time, so you can be ready to file as quickly as possible once the Visa Bulletin shows that a green card is available to you. By failing to file in a month when a green card is available, you risk facing a surprise backward movement (“retrogression”) in the next Visa Bulletin, which would close your window of opportunity for filing a green card application.

Stay tuned for next month’s update! As always, we’ll highlight all the important changes for you. In the meantime, let this 2-year-old toddler help you sharpen your baking skills.