The new State Department Visa Bulletin indicates the availability of green cards is improving slightly for Indian and Chinese nationals sponsored in the employment-based second preference, known as EB-2. (A copy of the latest visa bulletin can be found here.)
How the Law Works
Under the law, there are 5 employment-based preferences: First Preference (EB-1, priority workers); Second Preference (EB-2, worker with advanced degrees or exceptional ability); Third Preference (EB-3, professionals, skilled workers and other workers); Fourth Preference (EB-4, special workers, such as religious workers); and the Fifth Preference (EB-5, employment creation or investor visas).
A total of 40,040, or 28.6 percent of the 140,000 annual quota is used by each of the first, second and third preferences. The second preference can use any numbers not utilized by EB-1, while EB-3, the third preference, can use any visa numbers not utilized by the EB-2 category. For the employment-based second preference, generally the employer needs to require the position to be filled by someone with a masters degree or higher and the individual possesses such a degree.
The employment-based immigrant categories have per country limits, which makes the waits longer for nationals from large countries. India and China are most affected by those limits in the employment categories.
The setting of priority dates is used to manage the flow of immigrant visas within the limits set by Congress. A visa number generally is “available” for an individual with a priority date earlier than the date listed in the State Department’s most recent Visa Bulletin. A priority date is usually triggered by the date a labor certification application or an immigrant petition is received by the federal government.
In the December 2011 Visa Bulletin, just published online, the priority date for EB-2 is March 15, 2008. In the November 2011 Visa Bulletin, the priority date for the employment-based second preference was November 1, 2007. This type of movement in a short period is used to encourage more applicants to help ensure the quota is close to fully utilized without going over the annual limit.
The Situation for EB-2 Applicants
In recent years, because of the fall down of immigrant visas from the EB-1 category, about 50,000 immigrant visas a year have been available in the employment-based second preference. Nationals from India and China can exceed the per country limit allocation for their respective countries if otherwise immigrant visas within a category would go unused.
A brief analysis of the EB-2 situation can be found here on the website of the law firm Berry Appleman & Leiden. The analysis notes, “A foreign national cannot apply for permanent residence (a green card) until a visa is available based on their priority date, preference category, and country of birth.” It goes on to explain: “The DOS [Department of State] has predicted that it is possible that immigrant visa availability could move forward again in the January and February 2012 Visa Bulletins, but then retrogress later in the year. Last year, according to the DOS, there were 3,000 EB-2 petitions filed on behalf of individuals born in India who already have priority dates established through EB-3 petitions. Because those individuals can use their previous EB-3 priority date for the EB-2 category, the movement in EB-2 numbers for India is likely to slow down.”
The attorneys at Berry Appleman & Leiden also offer this advice: “While we cannot predict whether movement will occur in the Visa Bulletin, it is important that any Indian or Chinese national with a current priority date files the last step of the green card process as soon as the priority date is current in December. If visa numbers regress before the application has been filed, the foreign national will lose the opportunity to apply for permanent residence, which would negatively affect dependent children who are close to turning 21.”
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that absent Congressional changes to employment-based immigrant quotas and the per country limit improvement in green card availability for highly educated Indian nationals may only be short-lived.