Latest Visa Bulletin Shows Priority Date Retrogression in Action

Priority Dates sometimes move backwards, rather than forwards

Looking at the State Department Visa Bulletin for June, 2014 may have left a number of prospective green card applicants saying, “What happened?”

The visa cutoff dates listed in the latest Bulletin (representing actual dates upon which a family member or employer originally petitioned for the immigrant, so that when someone’s “priority date” comes up on the list, it means a visa is finally available to that person) moved backwards rather than forwards in some cases.

In category 2A, for example, (for spouses of U.S. permanent residents and unmarried children under 21 of permanent residents), you would have had cause for hope a mere month ago. The May, 2014 Visa Bulletin showed a priority date of September 8, 2013 in category 2A (for every country except Mexico). That means visas were being made available to immigrants who had been petitioned for a mere eight months ago. Those beneficiaries were, in effect if not literally, invited to move forward with their visa processing.

But then look what’s in the June 2014 Visa Bulletin in category 2A: A date of May 1, 2012 for applicants for most countries. Suddenly the wait for people who applied in 2013 is looking a lot longer. Only the people whose petitions were filed well over a year before theirs are invited to move forward.

What happened, indeed?

It’s something called visa retrogression, which occurs occasionally when the State Department realizes that its supply of visas for that fiscal year is running out faster than it expected. (Also see Nolo’s article, “Visa Retrogression, or Why Your Priority Date Is No Longer Current,” for further explanation.)

Trying to wrap your head around this isn’t going to help a whole lot anyway, because there’s not a thing you can do about it. Once the priority dates move backward, the fact that yours was once current becomes irrelevant. Your visa processing stops dead (unless you were lucky enough to have already received yours during that brief window of opportunity).

Retrogression is usually a rare thing. But in the case of category 2A, it was widely predicted, given that the State Department started announcing almost miraculous advances in cutoff dates last year.

The 2A category isn’t the only one to have retrogressed in June, 2014, however. Many of the employment-based visa categories saw backwards movement. For example, both the employment-based third preference category and the “other workers” category retrogressed from an October 1, 2012 cutoff date to an April 1, 2011 date for most countries.

This situation does, however, point to the importance of acting quickly on your visa application, perhaps with the help of an attorney. Some lucky people no doubt made it through to visa approval before the window of opportunity closed again.