No matter who you speak to along the immigration journey, one topic looms darkly over the conversation: priority dates. You may have heard of them or you may even be currently waiting for your priority date to be current right now. This article will serve to educate you about what green card priority dates are, how they work, why the wait is so long, and what your options are when it comes to shortening your waiting time.

What is My Green Card Priority Date?

Most people that petition for a green card have a priority date. In fact, if you petitioned for a family-based or employment-based green card, you most certainly have a priority date. This date will be printed on your notice of receipt from the USCIS and should be noted as one of the most important dates concerning your green card processing time. So what is a priority date?

It is the day that the USCIS receives your green card petition.

This date shows what your priority level is according to the Department of State. Therefore, you will have to wait until they have processed all of the petitions that were submitted prior to yours before your petition will be processed.

Why is your priority date important? The Department of State has an annual limit on the number of green cards it distributes to any country from any category (e.g. EB-3 green cards to Chinese citizens). If too many people from a single country petition for the same green card in one year, a backlog will build up, and the DOS will process petitions in order of their priority dates.

What should you do with your priority date? You’ll have to compare your priority date to the final action dates that are posted in the visa bulletin.

The Visa Bulletin

Every month, the Department of State releases a visa bulletin that contains charts with all of the green card categories and the countries that apply for them. For each category and for each country, there is a date that is called the “final action date”. This is essentially where the DOS is when it comes to processing petitions. If the final action date reads June 8, 2014, then everyone who has a priority date of June 8, 2014 or older will have green card numbers issued to them that month. So, you will have to wait until the final action date matches or passes your priority date before you can receive a green card number.

Note that, while your priority date is set and does not move, the final action dates change from month to month.

Why Is It Longer For Some Countries Than Others?

You may notice that the dates for some countries are different from others. Some countries have dates that move forward every month while others have dates that don’t move at all or actually go backward in a process called “retrogression”.

This is not due to any prejudice on the part of the Department of State. This is due to the fact that some countries submit many more petitions than others. Heavily-populated countries such as China or India usually exceed the annual limit on green cards across several different categories, causing backlogs to build and dates to retrogress. Countries that submit fewer petitions than the limit will see their final action dates move forward.

If the final action date moves forward until it matches the current calendar date, it will be considered “current” (marked by a “C” in the bulletin). If your category is current, then you can move forward with adjusting your status or consular processing as soon as your petition has been approved. However, others will have to wait until the final action date passes their priority date in order for their priority dates to be considered current.

However, for those populated countries that regularly submit more petitions than their limit, priority date waiting times could take decades to become current, if they ever become current at all.

Porting a Green Card

So what should you do if you’re looking at decades of waiting time for your priority date. Well, if you are getting an employment-based green card, you may have heard of having the option to “port” your green card from one preference level to the next. While this sounds like an optimal situation and it is technically possible, there are some things to note before getting started.

For one, it is not porting in the sense that all of your forms and information will simply be transferred to another green card preference level. In reality, your employer will need to file an completely new petition, fees, and obtain a new PERM Labor Certification on your behalf. It is essentially like starting over from scratch.

How it benefits you is because “porting” your green card allows your employer to indicate that your original green card priority date should be retained. That way, you can avoid having your priority date reset and your waiting time will be subject to the new final action dates listed in the bulletin for the higher preference level. Let’s look at an example:

Martha is an Indian citizen waiting on an EB-3 green card with a priority date in March 2016. It may be many years before her priority date is current. If she then petitions for an EB-2 green card in January 2019 and is approved, then her priority date will be retained at March 2016 rather than resetting to January 2019. If the EB-2 final action date for India is current, then Martha can adjust her status or use consular processing as soon as her petition is approved rather than wait several years.

However, there is a catch. In order to “port” your green card to the next level, you must not only obtain the qualifications for the new level, but you must also obtain a new job that requires your new qualifications. This can either be through your current employer or with a new one. Let’s take a look at the example again:

Martha applied for an EB-3 as a software developer. While she was waiting, she obtained a master’s degree in computer science. In order to port her EB-3 status to EB-2, she will need to either be promoted to a higher position that requires her master’s degree or she will need to find a new job that requires the degree.

This can be done for most employment-based green cards and does not have to go from an EB-3 to an EB-2 or an EB-2 to and EB-1. It’s all about the priority date. It doesn’t matter which green card you applied to before or which you are pursuing now, you are essentially starting from scratch on all aspects except for the priority date. Speak with your immigration attorney to see if green card porting is appropriate for your case.

Marriage-Based Green Card Priority Dates

If you take a look at the Department of State’s monthly visa bulletin, you may be surprised to see that there is no section for marriage-based green cards under the “family immigration” section. This is because the marriage green card is in a separate category called “immediate family”. Immediate relatives include:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens
  • Parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21
  • Widows and widowers of U.S. citizens (provided that the petition was filed within two years of the death of the citizen)

According to the USCIS:

“Immigrant visas for “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens are unlimited, so they are always available.”

Therefore, while family- and employment-based green cards are often not immediately available, green cards for immediate relatives do not require you to wait for your priority date to be current.

My Priority Date is Current: What Next?

If your green card priority date has matched or passed the final action date given in your category for your country on the visa bulletin (or if your category has a “C” on it instead of a date), then there are two routes that may be available to you depending on your situation.

The first route is called “adjustment of status”. This is a process by which you can adjust your status from nonimmigrant to immigrant. This is not to be confused with a “change of status” or a “transfer of status”, which are different processes entirely. To adjust your status, you will need to submit an I-485 Application to Register Permanent Resident or Adjust Status with the USCIS, pay the fee that varies based on your age, and wait approximately six months to have it approved. Adjustment of status is only available to those that are already in the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa status (such as an H-1B, L-1, or K-1 visa).

The other option is to go through consular processing, which involves making an appointment with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your home country. At that appointment, you will have your biometrics taken, you will submit a DS-260 application, and you will go through a one-on-one interview with a consular officer. After which, your passport will be taken and then mailed back to you with a green card inside. This option is available to all but mandatory for those that are not under a nonimmigrant visa status at the time of the approval of their petition.

Both routes can be advantageous based on your situation. Speak with your immigration attorney to learn more.

How VisaNation Law Group Attorneys Can Help

Having to wait for a green card priority date to be current can be difficult, and you may want to see what your options are when it comes to shortening this waiting time. Also, if you are in the process of considering petitioning for a green card, the idea of having to wait decades could be terrifying. That’s why it’s always best to discuss your situation with a qualified and experienced immigration attorney to ensure that you are making the right decisions when it comes to your green card.

Here at VisaNation, we have helped countless people like yourself obtain their green cards. From filing the petition and fees to dealing with Requests for Evidence and facilitating green card porting, VisaNation law group lawyers are here to take the stress out of your immigration process.

To get in touch with our office, you can fill out this contact form and schedule a consultation with us today.