The visa bulletin is a document produced by the United States State Department each month. The purpose of the visa bulletin is to tell people waiting to get immigrant visas how long they will have to wait.
Subject to a few exceptions, every country is given the same number of immigrant visas each year. So, when more people in a particular country decide that they would like to immigrate to the US, it creates a backlog. It works like a line, where the people that applied for visas first are in front of those that applied later. Applicants move forward in the line as people that applied before them either drop out or are admitted as immigrants.
The dates you see when you look at the bulletin are the application date for the people who are currently being given their immigrant visas. For example, if it says 01MAY04, this means that the immigrants in that category applied for the visa in May of 2004. This date also gives an estimate for how long you may have to wait. Again, for a date of 01MAY04, you will likely be waiting about seven years for your visa.
In each visa bulletin, there is a list of countries where the wait time is different than the rest of the world. The first column on the list ("All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed"), means the rest of the world. Any countries where the wait time is different are listed to the right of that column. Generally, these are countries where the line is particularly long in certain immigrant preferences.
A piece of terminology that you will often see in visa bulletins is the word ‘current' (sometimes designated simply as "C"). Current means that visas are currently available in that particular immigrant preference and you will only have to wait for the visa's processing before you will be allowed to enter the US. Most of the time, you will see current in the employment-based preferences because it is rare that they are all used up each year.
The final part of the visa bulletin is the diversity immigrant information. Diversity immigrant visas are allotted to countries where there has been relatively little immigration to the US in recent years. There is a complicated formula to determine how the visas are apportioned. If you are from one of the countries that are given diversity visas, then you will generally only have to wait for the processing of your application before being given your visa.
It is important to emphasize that the dates on the visa bulletin are estimates. The actual wait time could be longer or shorter than what is listed there. Regardless, if you're interested in immigrating to the United States, it is in your best interests to get into the line as soon as possible. Contact the Hacking Immigration Law at (314) 961-8200 or by filling out our online contact form. We have a great deal of experience obtaining immigrant visas for our clients and we will be able to provide you with more specific information than the visa bulletin on your potential wait time.