What is a priority date?

What is a priority date in U.S. immigration, and why does it matter?

In most cases, there are three major factors that determine how soon an applicant for permanent residence status will receive the green card:

  1. The country he/she was born in.
  2. The family-based or employment-based preference category (see below).
  3. The priority date.

There are a limited number of family-based and employment-based immigrant visas (green cards) available each year. To allocate those visas in an orderly manner, the Department of State (the agency responsible for allocating the immigrant visas) allocates a certain number of visas for various categories, depending on the country that the applicant was born in (not the country of citizenship; see # 1 above). For family-based permanent residence cases, there are also various preference categories depending on the relationship between the person who files the petition (the petitioner) and the person who will receive the green card (the beneficiary). For employment-based cases, there are various preference categories depending on the requirements for the position for which the green card application is filed.

The priority date is the date that the petition, or in certain employment-based cases, the PERM labor certification, is filed. Each month, the U.S. Department of State publishes the visa bulletin. The visa bulletin lists a priority date for each visa classification, and for each country of chargeability (usually, but not always, country of birth). If your priority date is before the date listed on the visa bulletin, a green card may be available in that particular category. If the priority date is not yet current, the prospective green card holder must wait until the priority date is current to file for permanent residence. If the visa bulletin lists "C" in your particular category, that means that there are green cards available, regardless of what your priority date is. The entire green card process can take years, so it’s important to develop a comprehensive immigration strategy to make sure you remain in status if you plan to remain in the U.S. during this time. Want to check out the current priority dates? Visit the visa bulletin online and remember to check it each month (the middle of the month) to see if your date is current! Don’t have a priority date yet? Contact Sumner Immigration Law at www.sumnerimmigration.com or at info@sumnerimmigration.com to set a consultation to create your strategy today!