I posted this reply to a question concerning predicting cutoff date movement. A number of readers asked that I post it as a "sticky" so that it is easier to find. One of the more frustrating things for me is seeing all of the requests, like this one, for information about visa cutoff date movement. It is frustrating because I know how important this information is to the people who post, but I also know how difficult it is to even speculate on movement. Until very recently, it was relatively easy to predict future cutoff date movement. The important variables were known and it was easy to make a calculation that would give at least a close approximation of the likelihood of forward movement. That has changed. For years, the INS/CIS failed miserably to do their job. They approved an embarrassingly small number of AOS applications each year. The result was that they wasted hundreds of thousands of allocated quota numbers. As you should know, if a visa number is not used in the year for which it is allocated, it is lost forever. Unused visa allocations do not carry over into the next year. The CIS Ombudsman, after investigation, estimated that the INS/CIS wasted more than 600,000 allocated visa numbers between 1996 and 2006 because they failed to approve enough pending AOS cases to use up all of the allocated visas. It is important to understand that the State Department, which has the legal authority to regulate the issuance of visas under the quota, uses a "cutoff date" system to keep things fair. That is, they determine how many visas are available in a given category for a particular month and then they look at the waiting list to see how many people on the waiting list can be accommodated that month. The waiting list is arranged by priority date. If, for example, they determine that there are 1,000 visas available in a category in a particular month, they go to the oldest priority date and count forward 1,000, look at the date, and make that the "cutoff date" for that month. This is an oversimplification, but it should serve to get the point accross. Starting in 2006, the State Department stepped up and began to artificially advance cutoff dates in order to prevent further waste of visa numbers. They determined that the CIS was not going to approved enough AOS cases to use up the entire EB quota for that year. Since it was possible for the overseas consular posts to act very quickly, and also handle large volumes of cases, the State Department moved the cutoff dates forward beyond where they would have been normally. Let me take a moment to explain this. By way of hypothetical example, let's say that the State Department determined that demand for visas was such that they could set the EB 3 cutoff date for June, 2007 at August 1, 2002. This would mean that there were enough visas available for issuance in the month of May to accommodate everyone who applied for an immigrant visa (through AOS or consular processing) with a priority date of August 1, 2002 or earlier. Now, looking at the rate of CIS processing, they also (hypothetically) determined that by limiting applications only to those with priority dates earlier than August 1, 2002 the CIS would fall far short of exhausting the quota. On the other hand, if they could induce more people to apply overseas, they would have enough applications on file to allow the consular posts to pick up the slack left by the CIS and (hopefully ) fully exhaust the quota. The result, no wasted visas - the entire quota would be used. As a result, they moved the cutoff date up to June 1, 2005 instead of August 1, 2002. The result? More visa applications were filed. Unfortunately, about 85% of all EB green card applicants elect the slower AOS process. This meant that when the State Department advanced the cutoff date to attract new applications, only about 15% of those new applications were sent to consular posts. This was not enough to make up the difference between inadequate CIS productivity and the full quota. As a result, for July they decided to make everyone "current" in order to get enough applications on file to exhaust the quota and prevent further waste of allocated visas. This strategy worked, at least as far as preventing further waste of allocated visas was concerned. It also resulted in the CIS adjustment of status backlog growing by an additional 350,000 cases. No one really knows just how large that backlog really is today. The CIS treats it as a matter of national security. The State Department asked for this information almost a year ago and the CIS still hasn't delivered. DHS Secretry Napolitano ordered the CIS to produce this information last February and she is still waiting for it. Most estimates, however, put the total number of unadjudicated employment based I-485 applications at somewhere around half a million. In the last year and a half, it appears that the CIS has finally gotten serious about AOS adjudications. After being humiliated by the State Department in July 2007, they began working on improving their rate of production. In 2008, for the first time in the history of their agency, they approved more than 100,000 cases in a single year. This year, it looks as though they will approach 140,000. Because the CIS has finally started doing their job, visa cutoff dates have not moved forward. Indeed, they have retrogressed. You have to remember that the cutoff date is simply the nexus of supply and demand. The supply is a known quantity, derived from the annual quota and the formula used for allocating visas among the different preference categories throughout the year. Demand, however, is a variable that depends on both the actual number of applications filed, and more importantly, the rate at which the CIS processes them. No matter how many cases get filed, if the CIS doesn't process any of them, then demand is zero. Since more cases have been filed than have been processed, CIS productivity determines demand. Currently, the CIS appears to be processing cases at a rate that will fully exhaust the annual quota. The problem is that the backlog of EB AOS cases is so enormous and the CIS absolutely refuses to disclose any information about it. We have no idea, for example, how many worldwide EB3 are pending with priority dates earlier than 1/1/2001, or earlier than 1/1/2002, or earlier than 1/1/2003 (and so on). If we did, then it would be a very simple matter to take those numbers and subtract them from the known quota availability and make a close approximation of the actual expected waiting time for a specific application. Let me cite another hypothetical example. Let's say that someone has a priority date of July 1, 2007 (preference unspecified for purposes of this example). Let's further simplify things by putting this person in the worldwide category. Let's also assume that under the quota, there are approximately 3,500 visas available in this category per month. If we know that there are 4,600 people with 2001 priority dates, 10,900 people with 2002 priority dates, 17,400 people with 2003 priority dates, 23,600 people with 2004 priority dates, 33,000 people with 2005 priority dates, 43,300 people with 2006 priority dates, and 22,200 people with priority dates in the first half of 2007, then we know that there are about 155,000 people with priority dates earlier than our applicant. If there are 3,500 visas available each month, then we know it will take about 44 months for our applicant's priority date to become current. Unfortunately, we have absolutely no idea as to even how many applications are pending, much less a breakdown of their preferences and priority dates. Without this information, it is flatly impossible to predict any kind of forward movement. I apologize for being so wordy, but I wanted to try to explain why it is not possible to predict movement with any accuracy.