I often am surprised when clients contact me asking how to read the Department of State Visa Bulletin.

It’s a four-part process.

First, what’s your preference category? What is your priority date? Place of birth? Place of birth of beneficiary’s spouse?

Second, are you doing the interview abroad or in the US? If abroad, look for “Dates for Filing” to figure out when NVC can work on the case. If in the US, check the USCIS page about which chart to use. 

Third, select the right chart. For example, if you are an employment based case “E1”, choose employment category 1 in the “Dates for Filing of Employment-based Visa applications” (which is the chart USCIS is currently using for E1 at the time of this post, and as used by NVC for consular processing cases).

Four, read the chart. In the above example, it would be the 4th table in the visa bulletin. For employment category 1, you would put your hand on that row, and move right to the appropriate “country” column. If the beneficiary was born in mainland China, move along the row to the right to that country. Cases with a priority date BEFORE the written date are currently being processed.

If there is no date listed, e.g. “C”, then all cases are being processed.

If beneficiary’s spouse was born in another country from beneficiary, you can use “chargeability” to change the date used by beneficiary. For example, if a mainland Chinese individual was married to someone from Taiwan, the mainland China beneficiary can use the “All chargeability areas except those listed” category.

Specifics are explained in 22 CFR 42.12(b), (c), (d), and (e), as well as 9 FAM 503.2-4(A)