Visa Bulletin – Filing Date vs Final Action Dates? How does it work?

US Department of State publishes the Visa Bulletin every month that summarizes the green card numbers availability by category and movement of priority dates. It has “Dates for Filing” charts and “Final Action Dates” charts. Depending on the month of the year and movement of priority dates, USCIS suggests which charts to use for filing adjustment of status. In this article, we will look at the differences and how the different dates thing works. Why they move back and forth and how it impacts the priority dates.

If you are new to the Green Card process and have not heard some of the terms like country caps, priority dates or numerical limits, read Green Card Numerical Limits, Country Caps, Priority Date to get an idea.  

Background for Dates for Filing & Final Action Dates

US Department of State introduced the concept of “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing” only from October 2015 Visa Bulletin. If you check any of the previous editions of Visa Bulletin like September 2015 Visa Bulletin, you would not find two charts or two dates listed.  There was only one chart and one date, which was just called priority date.

US Department of State(DOS) introduced the concept of two dates to align procedures of Immigrant Visas (Green Card) at US Consulates abroad with USCIS adjustment of status application procedures. Also, with two dates, US Dept of State would be able to more accurately predict the demand and supply of Green Card numbers. It will help them issue maximum number of Green Cards per year, without wasting them, as per Congress guidance. These were all introduced as part of Obama plan for modernizing legal immigration in 2015

Now that you have some background on why two dates, next we need to understand how the Green Cards numbers are reported, collated and further predicted. This will help you better understand how the “Dates for Filing” and “Final Action Dates” movement in next sections.

How are Green Card or Immigrant Visas count Reported, Predicted?

The Visa Office (VO) that is part of US Department of State (DOS) handles the green card numbers reporting and prediction. Every month the Visa Office gets a report of total number of immigrant visa (Green Card) applicants from all US consulates & Embassies across the globe. Also, they get the number of pending applications of adjustment of status from USCIS. The process of prediction is pretty complicated.  But for your easy understanding, we have tried to simplify it as below.  

First, when a fiscal year starts in October, Visa Office divides the total annual available Green Card numbers into monthly allotments. They will predict the number of Green Cards available for the upcoming months, until the end of fiscal year, based on below three data points.

  • Qualified Immigrant Visa Applicants count received from US Consulates
  • Pending Adjustment of Status applicants count received from USCIS
  • Historical counts of Denials, Abandonments and withdrawals.

Depending on how the above three numbers vary, you would see movement of the priority dates. We will look more details below,  let’s dive into the dates of filing and final action dates and how they move.

You may also watch the below video that covers the details in article.

Also, for reporting and prediction, The Visa Office aggregates numbers on the high-level Categories like F1, F2A, EB-1 and does not give priority dates under sub-categories level. In general, each of these high-level categories has many sub-categories that are identified by Green Card Category Codes like E11, E12, IR1, etc. that are used for detailed allocation. Also, this is the ‘Category’ that is printed on the physical Green Card that is issued to the applicant.

Now that we have a full background, let’s look at each of the terms ‘dates of filing’ and ‘final action dates:

What is “Dates for Filing” in Visa Bulletin ?

The “dates for filing application” or simply “dates for filing” in Visa bulletin are the earliest dates when Green Card Applicants may be able to apply for green card or immigrant visa.  The dates for filing are typically used by National Visa Center (NVC) to notify immigrant visa applicants (green card applicants), who are outside of US to prepare themselves and submit all the relevant documents required for the Green Card Visa Interview at US Consulates. The dates of filing may also be used by USCIS asking Green Card applicants in US to submit applications for Adjustment of Status.

Let’s review, what ‘dates for filing’ mean for NVC, Consulates and USCIS.

Dates for Filing – NVC, Applicants Outside of US

For Consular processing Green Card applicants, after the green card application ( form I-130 or I-140 ) is approved by USCIS, it is sent to National Visa Center(NVC) for next steps. The NVC uses “Dates for Filing” from Visa Bulletin to notify applicants to start submitting the documents and work with them for all the required steps to make them ready for green card interview.

If you see below chart of Immigrant Visa Process, the steps from Step 2 to Step 9 are done by NVC for applicants who are applying for Green Card (immigrant visa) from outside of US.   Once NVC receives all the documents in step 9 and they will mark them as “Documentarily Complete”. Basically, “documentarily complete” means that NVC has received all basic documents, fees and the applicant is ready to be interviewed when priority dates become current for that applicant.  

NVC will also notify the applicants that their application is “Documentarily complete”. The applicants with status of “Documentary complete” are the ones that consulates report to Visa Office for Visa number predictions. No names are reported, but only the counts of applicants with that status at a consulate or embassy are reported.  

Dates for Filing – USCIS, Applicants inside US

USCIS allows green card applicants inside US to apply for adjustment of Status to get Green Card, when their priority date is current. USCIS usually has a large pool of Green Card applicants that are pending with them and waiting for priority date to be current for issuance of green card.

USCIS in preparation for next fiscal year (starts from October 1st) will forecast how many applications they would need to meet the Green Card numerical limits by end of the fiscal year (September of next year). They usually look at their pending applicants count with them and forecast, if they have any shortage of applications. In cases, where they believe they do not have enough applications to fill the total numerical limit by end of fiscal year( next year September), they will ask green card applicants to use “Dates for Filing” to submit the adjustment of status applications.  See below how it looks in a diagram

USCIS’s goal is to have sufficient number of applications so that they can issue maximum number of green cards by end of year and they do not get wasted.  USCIS informs public at on what dates to use for submitting adjustment of status applications. Usually, you see USCIS ask applicants to use “Dates for Filing” in the beginning months of the Fiscal year start (October, November). This is the same case with current October 2020 Visa Bulletin as well.

See below screenshot from USCIS Visa Bulletin filings charts webpage, where they ask applicants what date to use in a particular month. For example, below is what was used in October 2020, where it says to use ‘Dates for Filing’  

What are “Final Action Dates” in Visa Bulletin?

The “final action dates” or “application final action dates” are the dates when the actual green card numbers are available for that category & country of birth, so that the final Green Cards or immigrant visas can be issued.  You can think these dates as if your position in queue has reached the end and you are ready to get the green card. The priority dates that were used before introduction of two separate dates are nothing but the “final action dates”.  Let’s review, what they mean for NVC, Consulates and USCIS.

Final Action Dates – NVC, US Consulates  

The National Visa Center (NVC), which processes the green card applications for consular processing petitions, will inform the green card applicants when their priority dates become current based on the “Final Action Dates” in Visa Bulletin. They will also work with US consulates to schedule immigrant visa interview for these applicants based on the final action dates.

Final Action Dates , USCIS usage

USCIS uses “final action dates” as the default priority dates asking green card applicants to apply for Adjustment of status. If there are any exceptions for any month, they will specify them at  to use “filing dates”.  Usually, if you see Visa Bulletin after the USCIS fiscal year starts after first couple of months(Oct, Nov), USCIS asks everyone to use final action dates.  The reason is, most of the times USCIS receives enough number of applicants to fill the numerical limit of green cards for that year in the first one or two months, so they do not give option for early filing using “Filing dates”. See below how it looks in a diagram

What happens when Final Action Date is current ?

When your final action date becomes current, you would see “Current” or “C” in the Visa Bulletin. What it means is that you can go ahead and apply for the next steps to get your green card and there is no wait time. Below are the things that you can do depending on your situation.

  • Inside US – Apply Adjustment of Status : If you are living inside US and eligible(you should be in legal status) to apply for Adjustment of Status, then you can apply for adjustment of status using form I-485 with USCIS. After they receive your application for I-485, you would be giving biometrics, then maybe an interview and then at last you would get the green card. The day when the entire process is complete, your priority date or final action date has to be current to get your green card. If there are any retrogressions, then you need to wait.
  • Outside US – Apply for Visa Interview : If you are outside of US, then work with NVC and schedule your visa interview for immigrant visa. You would be giving biometrics, submit DS-260 application form, go through visa interview with consular officer. If approved, you can use that immigrant visa to enter US and then apply for the actual physical green card.

Difference between Final Action Dates and Dates for Filing

Below are some of the common differences between final action dates and dates for filing applications

Final Action DatesDate for Filing
Final action dates define when the actual green card numbers are actually available for a country & categoryDate for filing are used primarily to prepare ahead by NVC or by USCIS to make sure there are enough applications in the queue for a fiscal year
Final action dates are the dates that are most commonly used by applications for filing adjustment of status applications with USCIS during rest of the year after first few months.Dates of filing are used mainly during the first few months of the fiscal year start like in October, November to get more applications in pipeline for meeting the demand for the entire year
If the final action dates chart shows as ‘Current’ or ‘C’, then it means that there is no wait time in the green card queue. Applicants in that category and from that country can file the green card and will be processed immediately.If the dates for filing shows as ‘Current’ or ‘C’, then it also means that there is no wait time to apply for visa interview at the US consulate abroad to get immigrant visa. Also, similarly one can file green card applications with USCIS without waiting.

Dates of Filing vs Final Action Dates

Why do “Dates for Filing” and “Final Action Dates” fluctuate? Retrogress?

As you read from above, there are many factors considered for prediction of the green card applications required to meet the numerical limit.  There are few scenarios on why  ‘dates for filing & final action dates’ move forward or backward. Let’s look at them.  

  • Consulates Closed : if consulates are closed or not functioning fully, then the green cards that were supposed to be issued at a consulate are not used up as per previous years’ predictions. So, there is a surplus of Green Card numbers that Visa office gets. In this case, the priority dates move forward and USCIS could use “Dates for Filing” to get more applications. This is to make sure, no green cards are wasted.
  • More applications filed – Retrogress: If there are much more green card applications filed than the actual available number of green cards, then Dept of State has to move the priority dates back ( also called as Retrogress) to make sure they do accurate prediction. If at any point of time the Green Cards are issued that are equal to country cap or numerical limit then Visa bulletin would show Green cards as Unavailable or show letter ‘U’
  • Spill over from Family Based to employment Based : If family based green cards are not used up, like in current year with Trump Travel Ban for Immigrant Visa holders entry, then those spill over to Employment based category. In such cases, there are lot more green card numbers available for Employment based, so the Priority dates can move forward significant. In fact, for EB3, India the ‘dates for filing’ moved by 4 years 11 months primarily driven by the spill over from family-based categories.

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