On September 9, 2015, the Department of State published a visa bulletin confirming that as of October 1, new procedures would allow some foreign nationals to file green card applications several years earlier than expected.  Green card applicants with pending applications are eligible for additional benefits, including temporary employment authorization and international travel permission, so this announcement was celebrated by many.  Just over two weeks later and mere days before the October 1 filing window was set to open, however, the Department of State published a revised bulletin drastically changing the filing timeline for some categories and dashing the hopes of many foreign nationals who believed they were one step closer to permanent residence.
The backlash was significant and immediate, and national organizations such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association and various advocacy groups are calling on the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security to restore the original visa bulletin.  A class action complaint has also been filed.  This is not the first time the Department of State has been under fire for sudden visa bulletin revisions.  In 2007, an announcement that certain foreign nationals in employment-based categories could immediately file their green card applications was followed a few days later by news that no green card applications would be accepted for the remainder of the fiscal year.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ultimately agreed to honor the original visa bulletin for a short window, and many are hoping for a similar outcome in connection with the latest visa bulletin revision.
Regardless of how this latest issue is resolved, it is important to note that the new procedures relate to green card filing eligibility only, and the timeline for green card approval will not be directly affected.  The Immigration and Nationality Act establishes a limit on the number of green cards that can be issued each year, and as there are far more intending immigrants than there are green cards available, the backlogs for green card approval in most categories will continue to persist under the current system.  By allowing foreign nationals to file applications earlier, however, the Department of State expects it can better predict the demand for green cards based on the number of applicants with pending applications, which should result in a more streamlined process overall.  As noted previously, foreign nationals stuck in the green card backlog can obtain employment authorization and travel permission once their green card applications are filed, even though their wait for green card approval may still last several years.  Employers with foreign national employees should consult with their immigration counsel to consider how these new procedures and developments will affect overall employment eligibility and sponsorship strategy.

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