What is a Green Card Priority Date?

Your Priority Date determines when an immigrant visa will be available to you so that you can apply for permanent residency.

For immigrants who want to live permanently in the United States, your green card priority date will be one of the most important dates of your life. It is the date that puts you in line for actually receiving your green card.

On paper, the immigration process is rather simple. In practice, however, you’ll often run into numerous obstacles before officially receiving your green card in the mail. For this reason, both polishing every aspect of your application and making sure your forms arrive on time can be critical to your success. Priority dates are a necessary part of this process.

Think of your priority date as your spot in the line of immigrants trying to enter the U.S. Basically, this date is based on when you officially show your intent to immigrate. For example, if you’re planning on entering under Form I-130 for Alien Relatives, your priority date will be whenever U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your application.

Then, when your priority date matches, or is older than, the date for your visa on the Immigration Bulletin, you can officially file for your green card.

Why are Priority Dates Necessary?

Congress sets specific limits on the number of available green cards available to certain groups of immigrants. Once those numbers of green cards are given out, there are no more available for that year. For more popular countries such as China and India this can create a serious backlog. The same effect occurs for more popular visa types like the H-1B or F1.

Some applicants will wait for as little as a few months to adjust their status. Others might stay in line for years, or even decades.

How can I find out my Priority Date?

There are actually several ways you can find out your exact priority date. In general though, the quickest way to find your priority date is to look for it on your I-797 form. This is the form you received in the mail as a response to your original application. The date itself will be on the top left of the I-797 under the receipt number. Notice that the receipt date and priority date are the same.

Remember that this date is based on the first time you officially showed an interest in immigrating by filing paperwork with USCIS or another agency.

If you are getting your green card based on a family petition (for example, if someone filed an I-130 on your behalf), then your priority date will be the date when your application was filed with USCIS. If you instead filed an employment petition, then your priority date is the earlier of:

  • The date the petition (Forms I-140, I-360 or I-526) was properly filed with USCIS; or
  • The date the permanent labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor.

Green Card Eligibility

Once you have your priority date, you should check the official Visa Bulletin website for more information. The Visa Bulletin is published monthly and keeps track of which priority dates are currently eligible for visas. For more detailed information on green card eligibility, see Who can Apply for a Green Card?

Family Based Green Cards

USCIS divides family-based visas into four preferences: F1, F2A/F2B, F3, and F4. Each preference has its own standards:

  • First (F1)Unmarried sons and daughters (over 21 years old) of U.S. citizens – 23,400/year.
  • Second (F2A/B): Spouses, children (under 21 years old), and unmarried sons and daughters (over 21 years old) of permanent residents – 115,000/year.
    • F2A: Spouses and children are limited to 77% of the second preference limitation.
    • F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters are limited to 23% of the second preference limitation.
  • Third (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens – 23,400/year.
  • Fourth (F4): Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens – 65,000/year.

How do these different preferences affect your green card’s availability? Let’s check out a section from the October 2015 Visa Bulletin.

Family-SponsoredAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedCHINA-mainland bornINDIAMEXICOPHILIPPINES
F115JAN0815JAN0815JAN0822NOV9401JUN01
F2A15APR1415APR1415APR1401MAR1415APR14
F2B15JAN0915JAN0915JAN0901AUG9501OCT04
F322MAY0422MAY0422MAY0408JUN9401OCT93
F408FEB0308FEB0308FEB0322MAR9701MAY92

Notice on the far left it lists the family based preferences. In the other columns it shows the exact priority dates that can apply for green cards as of this October 2015 bulletin. USCIS sorts the Visa Bulletin charts based on a few high-volume countries, as well as the “all chargeability areas” column which applies to everyone else.

For example, a F1 applicant from China that has a priority date of January 15, 2008 can apply as of the issuance of this Visa Bulletin.

Employment Based Green Cards

While family sponsored visas generally have long waiting times due to the volume of immigrants applying under these preferences, employment-based applicants rarely wait more than a few months.

As an example of this, we can again review a section of the October 2015 Visa Bulletin. A “C” in the date column means current (no wait at all), while a “U” means unauthorized (the public doesn’t have access to this information).

Employment- BasedAll Chargeability Areas Except Those ListedCHINA – mainland bornINDIAMEXICOPHILIPPINES
1stCCCCC
2ndC01JAN1201MAY05CC
3rd15AUG1515OCT1108MAR0415AUG1501JAN07
Other Workers15AUG1501JAN0608MAR0415AUG1501JAN07
4thCCCCC
Certain Religious WorkersUUUUU
5th
Non-Regional
Center
(C5 and T5)
C08OCT13CCC
5th
Regional
Center
(I5 and R5)
UUUUU

As you can see, most of the employment categories for green cards are current. This means that as soon as USCIS approves your application you can apply for an adjustment of status.

Conclusion

Understanding how priority dates work, and how long you may have to wait to get your green card, can help you design an immigration plan that best fits your needs. For instance, if you qualify for both EB-1 status and F-1 status, then you may want to pursue the EB-1. It will allow you to adjust status immediately and not have you waiting 7-11 years to apply for your green card.

If you are unsure what your immigration options are, consider scheduling a consultation with one of our experienced immigration attorneys today. Together we can develop a plan to best fit your needs.

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