If you’re like many people interested in applying for a green card in the United States, you need to know about priority dates. What are they, how does your own priority date affect your case, and is there anything you can do to change it? This guide explains.
What is a Priority Date?
A priority date is a green card applicant’s place in line while their case is being processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. If you recently applied for a green card or adjustment of status, you can find your priority date on Form I-797, Notice of Action.
The waiting time depends on:
- The demand for and supply of immigrant visas
- The per-country visa limitations
- The number of visas allocated for your preference category
To figure out how close you are to the front of the line, you need to compare your priority date to the dates for your category and country listed in the visa bulletin
Does Everyone Have a Priority Date?
Not everyone has a priority date. Only certain categories of green card applicants must wait for their priority date to become current before they may continue to apply for a green card. For example, applicants who fall into the immediate relative category don’t need to wait; that’s because the U.S. government can issue an unlimited number of these types of visas each year.
You only have to wait for a priority date if you fall into a green card category that has an annual cap on it. That means the U.S. government is only allowed to issue a certain number of green cards in your category every year. Your priority date is essentially your place in line.
How Does the U.S. Government Issue Priority Dates?
Your priority date is the date upon the U.S. Department of Labor received and accepted a labor certification application from your employer for processing; if you’re a family member or self-petitioner, it’s the date on which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received a completed Form I-130 petition or Form I-140 either on your behalf or from you (if you’re a self-petitioner). If you’re a fourth-preference special immigrant (including religious workers), it’s the date that USCIS accepts your Form I-360 for processing, and if you’re a fifth preference investor, your priority date will be the date that USCIS accepts your Form I-526 for processing.
How Long Is The Wait For Family-Based Sponsor Categories?
If your application falls into a family-sponsored category, the wait to apply for a green card can range from a few years to over twenty years. Family-sponsored immigrant visas have a quota that ranges between 226,000 and 480,000, depending on calculations based on the prior year’s family-based immigration statistics.
The quota is divided across five categories of eligible family-sponsored individuals:
- F-1: Unmarried adult sons and daughters of US citizens
- F-2A: Spouses and children of permanent residents
- F-2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of permanent residents
- F-3: Married sons and daughters of US citizens
- F-4: Brothers and sisters of adult US citizens
Can You Check the Progress of Your Priority Date?
When your priority date arrives, it’s known as being current; that means the people with that date are now eligible for visas or green cards. You can check the Visa Bulletin that the U.S. State Department publishes monthly to find out which priority dates are becoming current.
How to Read the Cutoff Dates in the Visa Bulletin
The Visa Bulletin publishes a list of visa cutoff dates in every category. Some categories are also broken down by country – that’s because there are per-country limits on some visas, and the demand from those countries may be especially high.
Checking the Progress of Your Own Priority Date
It is possible to check the progress of your priority date. Use the Visa Bulletin to watch for your date to approach. If the Visa Bulletin shows the letter C or the word current under your application category and your country of citizenship (if applicable), it means there are visas available under that category. You should expect to receive correspondence from the National Visa Center soon – or if you’re adjusting your status, you should prepare and submit your green card application.
What Happens if There’s a Date Under Your Category?
If you see a date rather than the letter C or the word current under your application category, it means that all the people who have priority dates before that date may apply for a visa or green card.
Is it Possible to File Early for a Green Card, Before Your Priority Date?
It may be possible for you to file the paperwork to adjust your status before your priority date. Check the USCIS’s website here to view the Adjustment of Status Filing Charts, which can help you determine whether you can submit your application before your priority date is actually current. If the same dates appear in the Visa Bulletin, you must still wait. However, if it shows you a “Dates for Filing” chart, you may be able to file for your green card early.
A Word on Availability of Immigrant Visas
The Immigration and Nationality Act sets the number of immigrant visas that the U.S. State Department is allowed to issue to people who want a green card. The limit can change every year. However, immigrant visas for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are unlimited. These green cards are always available if you are:
- The spouse of a U.S. citizen
- The child (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of a U.S. citizen
- The parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old
- A widow or widower of a U.S. citizen if the U.S. citizen filed a petition before they died, or if you file a petition within two years of the citizen’s death
Numerical Limits on Some Categories
Immigrant visas for family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant preference categories are numerically limited. That means that the U.S. government is only allowed to issue a certain number of them every year. These visas and green cards are not always immediately available; you may have to wait because of a numerical limit.
In some cases, the wait can be quite long.
Generally speaking, there are only 226,000 family-sponsored preference visas available every year; additionally, there are only 140,000 employment-based preference visas available every year. Of those numbers, the amount of visas allowed are divided between immigrant categories. More may be available in one category, while fewer are available in another. Those subcategories play a big role in how long you have to wait for your turn to come up.
However, the numbers of visas available each year are subject to change, and you should speak with your immigration attorney to ensure that these numbers are still accurate if you’re curious.
What is Concurrent Filing?
Sometimes people are permitted to file a Form I-485 together with their Form I-130 or Form I-140, but only when a visa would be immediately available to you. That means you must be in the immediate family member category. If you’re seeking an adjustment of status, either under a family-sponsored or employment-based preference category, the only way you’re allowed to file those forms concurrently is if you meet one of these criteria:
- The Visa Bulletin chart indicates a letter C or the word current rather than a specific cutoff date, which means that your preference category and country of chargeability (usually your birth country, but not always) is current. That means you can file Form I-485 regardless of the priority date.
- Your priority date is earlier than the cutoff date listed in the “Dates for Filing Applications” chart for your preference category and country of chargeability.
- Your priority date is earlier than the cutoff date listed in the “Application Final Action Dates” chart in the monthly Visa Bulletin for your preference category and country of chargeability.
Wait! This Month’s Date is Earlier Than Last Month’s Date in the Visa Bulletin! Now What?
Sometimes priority dates that were current in previous months are no longer current, or the cutoff date moves to an earlier date. When this happens, it’s called visa retrogression; it happens when more people apply for a visa in that category than there are visas available for that month.
You must wait until you see the letter C or the word current in your category to apply.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Your Priority Date?
Do you have more questions about applying for a green card or determining your priority date? Give us a call at (214) 999-1942 to schedule your free case consultation. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
About Davis & Associates:
Davis & Associates is the immigration law firm of choice in Houston & North Texas including Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, Frisco, McKinney and surrounding areas. Their attorneys provide expert legal counsel for all aspects of immigration law, including deportation defense, writs of habeas corpus and mandamus, family-sponsored immigration, employment-sponsored immigration, investment immigration, employer compliance, temporary visas for work and college, permanent residence, naturalization, consular visa processing, waivers, and appeals. Attorney Garry L. Davis is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
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