The May 2023 Visa Bulletin has been released, revealing that the EB-3 priority dates for the Philippines and ROW have retrogressed by 10 months, while China has moved forward by 5 months, and India has remained the same.
The US Visa Bulletin is a crucial document that determines the availability of employment-based visas for foreign nationals seeking to live and work in the United States. In this blog post, we will explore the concepts and terms associated with the US Visa Bulletin, including the limited supply of employment-based visas, country of chargeability, priority date, and retrogression.
What is the US Visa Bulletin?
The US Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication released by the US Department of State that provides information on the availability of immigrant visas, also known as "green cards," for foreign nationals seeking to immigrate to the United States. The bulletin is used by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to determine whether individuals are eligible to apply for a green card in a given month based on their priority date.
The Visa Bulletin lists the current priority date cut-offs for family-sponsored and employment-based visas detailed by country and any changes or updates to the cut-off dates from the previous month.
In short, the Visa Bulletin is an essential resource for individuals seeking to immigrate to the United States as it provides critical information on the availability of visas.
The Employment-Based Visa Supply is Limited
The supply of employment-based visas is limited for foreign workers. While many are aware that US regular cap H-1B visas are limited to 65,000 per year, fewer people know that EB-3 visas are also subject to limits. At Health Carousel International, we primarily file EB-3 employment-based visas for our healthcare professionals. It's important to understand how this visa type works if you're considering joining our program.
The number of EB-3 visas available yearly is limited to 40,000. The annual numerical limit for all employment-based visas (EB-1 through EB-5) is 140,000. On top of this, the number of EB-3 visas is limited to just 28.6% of all employment-based visas - or 40,000.
In addition, a per-country EB-3 limit exists as well. Each country may use at most 7% of the worldwide cap, regardless of the country's population. Based on the limits and rules above, the supply of EB-3 visas for individuals from the Philippines (or any other single country) is around 3,000-4,000 per year.
Only 3-4 thousand EB-3 visas are allowed annually per country for all occupations, not just nurses and other healthcare professionals! Please note that we have taken certain liberties in the above illustrative visa cap numbers as the actual calculations used by USCIS are more complex. However, the main point is clear that a seemingly large pool of 140,000 employment-based visas quickly shrinks to only a few thousand usable by any one country! Hence, why visa retrogression, or the waiting list for the issuance of approved visa petitions, is all too frequent, especially for countries with large populations like India and China.
VISA BULLETIN CONCEPT: Country of Chargeability
The Visa Bulletin uses the concept of "country of chargeability" to determine an individual's place in the visa queue and eligibility for a green card. An individual's country of chargeability is generally the country of their birth.
The Visa Bulletin specifically names certain countries that typically have a higher demand for immigrant visa types. For example, China, India, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Philippines are listed explicitly on the Visa Bulletin, and each is assigned a particular priority date. Countries not expressly listed in the bulletin are included under "All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed."
The concept of country of chargeability is essential as it relates to the per-country visa EB-3 visa caps discussed in the section above.
VISA BULLETIN CONCEPT: Priority Date
The priority date is when an individual's petition was filed (if the petition is approved). For EB-3 visas, the priority date is when an immigration petition is filed at USCIS under categories where labor certification is not required (nurses and physical therapists) or when the United States Department of Labor receives a labor certification application under categories where labor certification is needed (medical technologists).
Priority date determines their place in the visa queue. An individual with a priority date earlier than the appropriate cut-off date for their visa type and area of chargeability, as reported in the Visa Bulletin, is eligible to move ahead in the US visa issuance process. In contrast, those with a later priority date must continue to wait.
But suppose the visa demand exceeds the supply in a given category or country. In that case, a visa backlog or visa retrogression may occur, which can result in delays in the issuance of visas.
VISA BULLETIN CONCEPT: Retrogression
Visa retrogression refers to a situation where the demand for visas in a particular category or country exceeds the available supply of visas. In other words, when the number of applicants for a particular visa category or from a specific country is more than the number of visas available for that category or country, the visas are said to be retrogressed. In this case, visa retrogression delays processing visa applications or may even temporarily suspend visa issuance altogether.
EB-3 Retrogression and the Government Fiscal Year – As detailed above, visa retrogression is simply the waiting period for issuing approved visa petitions based on priority dates due to a backlog of visa filings. Commonly, this waiting period becomes longer in July, August, and September and then shrinks in October through the end of each calendar year.
Why does this happen? The US government's financial cycle is as confusing as many of its laws and regulations. The fiscal cycle and quotas for visas all reset on October 1 at the beginning of the US government's fiscal year, not January 1 as one might think. As a result, the visa priority dates frequently shift back in the spring and summer (wait times get longer) to avoid exceeding the approved visa quotas. Then on October 1, or shortly after that, the waiting period declines.
Expectations of Visa Sponsors and Healthcare Professionals During Retrogression
During visa retrogression, healthcare professionals sponsored for an EB-3 visa should expect their employer-sponsor or supporting agency to communicate regularly with them about the status of their application and provide updates regarding the retrogression.
It’s important to remember that immigration processing can and should continue to move forward during periods of visa retrogression. Healthcare professionals should strive for their visa application to be declared “documentarily qualified” by the National Visa Center (NVC). At this stage, visa applicants’ embassy interviews can be scheduled once their priority dates become current. This means it’s extremely important for healthcare professionals to pass required exams and provide all necessary documentation (i.e., NCLEX, approved English proficiency exam, credentials, etc.) to keep their immigration process moving forward.
It’s also essential for healthcare professionals to have a US employer-based visa sponsor, such as Health Carousel International, that will provide continuous support regardless of retrogression. Likewise, healthcare professionals must maintain open and regular communication with their visa sponsor during retrogression and ask questions or raise concerns about the process.
Retrogression can be a challenging and uncertain time. Still, with the support of a dedicated employer visa sponsor, healthcare professionals can navigate the process more smoothly and with greater peace of mind.
Read: Visa Types Explained
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