How to Read the U.S. Visa Bulletin

The Visa Bulletin is easy to read.
First, select the right chart to read.  The Visa Bulletin provides information for U.S. immigrant visa preference categories in two charts:  one for family-based visas and another for employment-based visas.  Picking the right chart is easy: who was the Petitioner? A family member or employer?  Another way of determining this is to ask, which form was used by the Petitioner:  Form I-130 or Form I-140?  If Form I-130, look at the Family-Based chart.  If Form I-140 was used, look at the Employment-Based chart.  The Family chart comes before the Employment chart. 
Second, look at the chart and find the column that applies: In which Country was the Beneficiary born?  If s/he was not born in Mainland China, India, Mexico or the Philippines, then s/he defaults into the "All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed" column. 
Third, find the row that applies:  What is the preference category of the Beneficiary?  The preference category should be stated on the receipt notice for the visa petition (some exceptions apply; for instance, the F5 category no longer exists.  It is now the F4 category).  For help understanding the current immigrant preference visa categories, click this link.   
Finally, look at where the column and row intersect: you usually will see a very important date.  That date is the cut-off date.  All petitions with a priority date after that date must still wait for a visa number to become available.  All petitions with a "Priority Date" before that date are eligible to recieve a visa number as of the month of that visa bulletin, unless the date retrogresses (goes backwards) in a future Visa Bulletin.  Once a visa number is available, the Embassy or Consulate may issue the often long-awaited visa. 
Note:  The listing of a date for any class indicates that the class is oversubscribed (meaning there is a wait); "C" means current, meaning that numbers are available for all qualified applicants; and "U" means unavailable, meaning that no numbers are available. 
Copyright 2011 Gordon Yang