If you’ve applied for an immigrant visa and are eagerly awaiting the chance to get your green card, you might have noticed all the fuss people make over their “priority date.” If you haven’t heard of a priority date yet, but you are just starting your immigration journey, it won’t be long before it’s one of the most significant things on your mind.
Your green card priority date is an enormous milestone in your green card process. This blog post will explain what a priority date is, how they are used, and why so many people focus on them during their process of becoming a lawful permanent resident. Plus, we will go over some frequently asked questions about priority dates.
What Is A Green Card Priority Date?
If you want to get a green card, you will need to eventually petition for an immigrant visa. In order to get an immigrant visa, a petition will have to be filed on your behalf. It will almost always be one of the following petitions:
- Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative – If your visa will be through a family member
- Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker – If your visa will be through your employer
- Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant
Your priority date will be either the date when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) first receives and accepts the petition or the date the Department of Labor receives and accepts your employer’s labor certification request. You will find your priority date on the paperwork that will be sent to you once the petition is received and accepted.
Think of your priority date as holding your place in line. That’s the simple explanation, but it’s not actually very simple at all, which is just one reason why it’s helpful to have an immigration attorney help you through the green card process.
How Do Officials Use Your Priority Date?
If you are seeking a green card from outside the United States, USCIS usually transfers your case to the Department of State’s National Visa Center after your petition has been received and accepted.
The first step is pre-processing. If you are outside of the country and waiting to apply for an immigrant visa, the NVC will send you a letter that contains information for logging into the Consular Electronic Application Center to check your status, receive messages, and manage your case. If you are already in the United States, you should only have to apply for adjustment of status once a green card becomes available.
It’s important to discuss this process with your lawyer. There are some exceptions for people who only need an adjustment of status, but typically, most people waiting for a green card will need to keep an eye on the Department of State’s visa availability whether they are inside the country already or waiting from outside the country.
Immigrant visas aren’t available without limit, unfortunately. So, people hoping to get an immigrant visa have to wait for a visa to become available. Keep in mind that each year the set number of green cards available is broken down into a very complicated system based on priority categories. Each category also has a specific number available. Generally speaking, there are family-based visa categories and employment-based visa categories. In addition to limiting the overall number of immigrant visas each year, the number of green cards is also limited based on countries of origin too.
After the petition for your visa has been submitted and accepted, you or you and your lawyer have to keep an eye on the visa bulletin. The U.S. Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin announcing what visas available and what priority dates can move forward in the process of applying to become a lawful permanent resident.
Why Do So Many People Focus On Their Priority Date?
NVC does attempt to contact applicants when a visa becomes available to them, but this doesn’t always work out exactly as planned, so most applicants keep an eye on the visa bulletin so that they don’t miss their chance to apply for it.
Once a visa is available based on your priority category and priority date, you only have one year to apply for the visa, or the petition is considered abandoned and your place in line would be lost.
Many people also pay close attention to the priority dates on the visa bulletin so that they can get a rough idea of where they are in line. The closer the current availability dates are to their own priority date, the closer they know they are to becoming green card holders.
If the applicant is already in the United States on another type of visa, they know that when their priority date is on the visa bulletin, they can apply for an adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident. Meanwhile, if they are not in the country yet, they know that they can finally file their visa application and get their green card interview scheduled at a consulate or embassy abroad.
Experienced Immigration Lawyers in San Francisco
Warren Law Firm has experience in all matters of immigration law. The complexity of green card priority dates shows why having a lawyer by your side through your immigration journey is so important, and there is no room for error. It’s important to choose an immigration law firm that you can trust. This may be the most significant process of your life, so contact us as soon as you’re ready to move forward.
Green Card Priority Date FAQs
No, unfortunately, you can’t move forward at all until your priority date is shown as current on the visa bulletin. There must be an available immigrant visa for you before you can schedule your interview.
Because errors happen frequently enough and because you have a deadline to apply for your immigrant visa once a visa is available to you, USCIS suggests that you or your attorney contact NVC to get the ball rolling as soon as you see that a visa is available.