What Does My Priority Date Mean?

Filing for your adjustment of status, or green card, is a life changing event. By doing this, you transition from being an immigrant to legal permanent resident of the United States. This transition is the final step before applying to become a citizen of the United States. Among the documentation you will eventually need for the application, one of the most important pieces of information to know and understand is your priority date.

Your priority date is determined when you, the applicant, first register the intention to become an immigrant. For those who are applying through a spouse or other family member, this is when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) first receives an immigrant petition. For employment-based applicants, the date is established either when the Department of Labor receives an application for labor certification or when USCIS receives an immigrant petition, if labor certification is not required. The priority date is officially established after a petition has been approved, but is listed on the receipt of the petition.

So what does your priority date mean? When applying for legal permanent residency, you cannot apply before your priority date is current. The Department of State determines when dates become current and publish these online each month in their VISA Bulletin. According to the Department of State, becoming “current” means that “numbers are authorized for issuance to all qualified applicants,” meaning, an application is not authorized to be processed until its priority date falls before the date listed in the bulletin. Their determination of these dates is based on several factors:

How many adjustments USCIS has already approved this year,

What is your country of chargeability, otherwise known as where you were born, and

How you are applying to change your status.

It all comes down to how many adjustments USCIS is legally allowed to approve per year. Every nation in the world has a cap of how many immigrants are permitted to adjust their status every year. Currently, every country is given the same number, which means that there is a backlog for several countries with many more people wanting to adjust their status then are allotted spaces. There are four countries, due to this backlog, which are listed separately from the rest of the world. They are – mainland China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines. These four countries have the largest number of people who want to adjust their status in the United States, whether from family or employment.

Beyond your nationality, who petitioned for you to become an immigrant is also important in determining when a priority date is current. Employment-based petitions generally become current much more quickly than family-based petitions. Even within these broad categories, however, the subcategories for which VISA you are in is important. For example, the dates for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens will take longer to become current than the dates for spouses of legal permanent residents. People who are determined to be “priority workers” all have current priority dates, while those who hold advanced degrees in a profession, but are not labeled as priority workers, may take longer to become current. Again, this is all subject first to your country of birth. At the time this was written, the applications of unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, who were born in India, are being processed if his or her priority date is before January 15, 2008. However, if this same person was born in Mexico, his or her application would not be processed unless the priority date is before November 22, 1994. These extremely long wait periods are why discussion about priority dates are never far behind in political debates on immigration in general.

Now that you have a better understanding of what a priority date is, what this means for you and your family, and how the Department of State creates them, stay informed on when yours becomes current. You can always find the most up-to-date VISA Bulletin posted on HEBF.com, or you can search for it yourself directly at the U.S. Department of State’s website. For this month’s bulletin, click here.

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