The Department of State (DOS) and USCIS announced new procedural changes to the Visa Bulletin that may provide some relief to immigrant visa applicants affected by current visa backlogs. Under the new procedure, the Visa Bulletin presents information regarding immigrant visa number availability differently. Now, there are two sets of cut-off dates for both family- and employment-based immigrant visa categories, “Application Final Action Date” and “Date for Filing.”

The “Application Final Action Date” is essentially the same as the “Priority Date” cut-off date of previous years.  The “Date for Filing” is new.  The Department of State will use this date to determine when an immigrant visa applicant may assemble and submit required documents to the National Visa Center (NVC), following receipt of notification from the NVC. USCIS, however, will not automatically use the “Date for Filing” in adjustment of status applications. Rather, it will follow the “Application Final Action Date” chart for accepting adjustment of status applications. However, upon determining that additional immigrant visas are available, USCIS may decide to then accept adjustment applications based on the “Date for Filing” chart. USCIS expects to make that determination within a week of the posting of each new Visa Bulletin. For November 2015, USCIS has determined that applicants for adjustment may use the “Date for Filing” chart.

While the new system does not make applicants in high-demand immigrant visa categories permanent residents any sooner – it does not eliminate the severe backlogs experienced by foreign nationals of certain countries – it will provide the opportunity for individuals to obtain employment authorization and travel documents sooner than they would otherwise, which alleviates the dependency on visas for temporary work authorization, and allows them to change employers.  The new procedure also should allow cut-off dates to advance at a slower and steadier pace in contrast to the widely varying speeds with which they advanced in the past.