USCIS and DOS have worked together to develop a new Visa Bulletin System. Under the old system, the DOS would release a visa bulletin every month. The Visa Bulletin would list each visa category with a series of cut-off dates for various countries as well as a catch-all cut off date for all countries other than those specifically listed (See Below for example):
While the date listed controlled both when you could FILE the adjustment application AND when DOS could allocate an immigrant visa (i.e. you can actually get the green card), it was based on the later date – where DOS was on cases in terms of approving immigrant visas. In other words, this meant that you could only file (or begin the process of consular processing) when an immigrant visa was actually available (or, in the case of consular processing a month or two in advance). DOS has now separated out these two dates in two separate tables – one for when DOS can allocate an immigrant visa and one for when you can file the I-485 (for those in the US) or can begin processing the case with the NVC (for consular processing).
The above are actual images from the new October Visa Bulletin. As can be seen, the dates can be radically different. For instance, for employment based immigrant visas in the EB-2 category for India, the date listed for when DOS can give out an immigrant visa (i.e. your priority date must be on or before this date before the I-485 can be approved OR before the US Embassy can stamp your passport with an immigrant visa) is May 1, 2005. However, the date listed for those who can file the I-485 or begin processing with the NVC (i.e. if your I-140 was filed on or before this date you can file the I-485 if you are in the US or you can begin the process with the US Embassy if you are outside the US (but they cannot APPROVE the cases until the previous date is reached) is July 1, 2011. So anyone from India with an approved EB-2 from July 1, 2011 or before can file their I-485 if they are in the US at this point. Just remember, even though you file the I-485, USCIS will not approve the case until the first date (the earlier date) is current for your visa type.
I will review the dates listed in the new October Visa Bulletin in a later post.