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Family-based immigration is the most common immigration pathway to the United States. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) may file petitions for certain family members, and if approved, those family members can immigrate to the United States if a visa is available to them. Determining if a visa is available to a particular family member can be complicated and confusing. Each month, the U.S. State Department posts the “Visa Bulletin,” which describes processing times for different types of cases including family-based visas.

How do I read the Visa Bulletin?
The Visa Bulletin publishes the “Final Action” date for different types of family-based visa categories. For example, a spouse or child under 21 of a lawful permanent resident falls in the “F2A” category on the Visa Bulletin. Currently, final action date in the F2A category for all countries is February 8, 2019. This means that only F2A immigrants with an I-130 petition with a priority date before February 8, 2019 currently have a visa available to them.

If you have an approved I-130 petition, look at the I-130 receipt notice or approval notice for your “priority date.” If the priority date is before the final action date listed on the Visa Bulletin, a visa is immediately available and you can likely start the process of immigrating to the United States through consular processing. If, however, your priority date is after the final action date, you will need to wait for a visa to become available before you can apply for an immigrant visa through consular processing.

A few months ago, the priority date for the F2A category was current.
What happened?
Until a few months ago, the priority date for the F2A category (spouses and unmarried children) was current and had been for several years. This meant that for spouses and children of lawful permanent residents, a visa was immediately available to them upon approval of their I-130 petition. Unfortunately, recently, the Visa Bulletin was updated to reflect that visas were no longer available in the F2A (or F2B) categories.

The Visa Bulletin is updated monthly, and sometimes the final action dates can change dramatically by moving upwards or backwards (called retrogression), as they recently have for the F2A category. That is why it is recommended to check the Visa Bulletin each month to see if the final action dates have changed. Additionally, if you are the beneficiary of an approved I-130 but your visa is not currently available, it is important to periodically check in with the National Visa Center (NVC) to keep your I-130 petition active. You should check in with the NVC at least once a year to ensure your I-130 petition remains active.

The Visa Bulletin, and the family-based immigration process through consular processing, can be complicated. For that reason, if you have questions about this process, we recommend scheduling a consultation with an experienced law firm such as The Modi Law Firm, PLLC.
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