Exactly one year after the U.S. Department of State ("DOS") began publishing two charts per visa preference category in its monthly Visa Bulletin, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") announced in September that applicants for Adjustment of Status could use the "Dates for Filing" chart in the October 2016 Visa Bulletin for almost all family-based and employment-based categories. The only notable exception to this change of policy was the 5th preference employment-based category, which must continue to use Final Action Dates.
When DOS introduced the two chart model in September 2015, USCIS responded by saying each month it would separately indicate whether it would adhere to the Final Dates of Action chart or the Dates for Filing chart for determining whether a foreign national may submit an application to adjust status (commonly referred to as the "green card" application). Between September 2015 and September 2016, USCIS consistently announced that applicants must look to Final Dates of Action before submitting their applications for adjustment of status. For example in the July 2016 Visa Bulletin, DOS listed the Final Action Dates for the EB-2 category for China as January 1, 2010, meaning Chinese nationals with an approved I-140 listing a priority date of January 1, 2010 or earlier could submit their green card applications. The Dates for Filing in that same visa category was June 1, 2013, but because USCIS did not accept this chart for purposes of filing, applicants had to adhere to the Final Action Dates chart.
In October 2016, however, USCIS for the first time permitted applicants to look to the Dates for Filing chart for when they could submit green card applications, which has made a significant difference for a number of backlogged categories. In November 2016, USCIS continued this trend, allowing applicants to again refer to the earlier Dates for Filing chart for determining if they may submit their green card applications. This is significant for potential applicants in the EB-2 China, EB-2 India, and EB-3 China categories, who are now eligible to file for green card applications as much as a year and a half earlier than the Final Action Dates charts indicate. For example the November 2016 Visa Bulletin lists EB-2 China Final Action Date as July 15, 2012, whereas the Dates for Filing in the same category is March 1, 2013. Although applicants are unlikely to see approval of their Adjustment of Status applications prior to the Final Action Dates chart matching their priority date, they still receive some benefits from this earlier filing date. In most circumstances eligible applicants can submit applications for temporary work and travel cards along with their green card applications, and dependent family members may also submit applications, allowing for greater flexibility for work authorization and travel.
If you have questions about the Visa Bulletin, this recent change of policy by USCIS, or whether you or your company's employees may be affected by this change, please contact one of the attorneys at Iandoli Desai & Cronin P.C. at firstname.lastname@example.org.