Immigration Basics: The Priority Date and Its Importance

Individuals undergoing the immigration process often have a keen and sophisticated grasp of some rather complex aspects of their cases. The priority date is one fundamental, vitally important element in these cases, however, for which an understanding appears to be somewhat illusive. A basic primer of the priority date and its significance is provided here for the benefit of MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers.

Know Your Priority Date

Anyone going through the permanent residence (green card) process needs to have a basic comprehension of priority dates. We find that those who are new to this process often do not have this information. The same is true of individuals who do not interact directly with their lawyers, either due to company policy or because the spouse or parent is solely or primarily dealing with the family’s immigration matters. It is not uncommon at the Murthy Law Firm for us to be contacted for immigration advice by an individual who simply does not know the answer when asked for his/her priority date.

Anyone who is undergoing the green card process, but does not know her/his priority date, should find that important piece of information. That little date can make all the difference in the world in how long the case could take and what options are available.

When Your Priority Date is Established

The term priority date is used in employment-based (EB) as well as family-based (FB) permanent residence (green card) cases. It is the date when the first filing in the case was received by the government, usually the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It establishes one’s place in the appropriate “line.”

In EB green card cases, the priority date is usually set by the date the PERM labor certification is filed. Filed means received by the DOL. It does not mean the date the company or lawyer started working on the case. Typically, months of work precede the filing.

A limited group of EB cases can omit the PERM labor certification process (like NIW or EB1 cases), and usually start with an I-140 employer petition. In these cases, the priority date is set by the I-140 petition filing date. Again, this means the date it was received by the appropriate governmental entity, the USCIS.

In FB cases, the priority date is also the date of the first filing in the case. FB cases are those cases in which the initial filing beginning the case is made by a sponsoring family member. This is usually the relative petition (Form I-130). The date this form is filed with the USCIS (or INS in much older cases) establishes one’s (the beneficiary’s) priority date.

Why Your Priority Date is Important

As mentioned, the priority date establishes a person’s place in “line.” The lines are created because the United States government restricts the number of people who can immigrate permanently each year. The restrictions are based on the EB and FB categories, as well as country of origin. The limits translate to visa numbers allocated each year. In order to obtain a green card, there must be a visa number available in the particular category. The availability of a visa number in a category depends upon the priority date.

How to Know if Your Priority Date is Available / Current

The monitoring and control of the visa numbers is complex and beyond the scope of this article. What is important, on a basic level, is knowing where to find out if a visa number is available for one’s case. The place to look is the current U.S. Department of State (DOS) visa bulletin, which is always available through MurthyDotCom.

The DOS visa bulletin is issued monthly. There are separate charts for EB cases and FB cases. The data are in a grid, with EB or FB categories down the left side and countries of chargeability across the top. Thus, it is necessary to know one’s category. The country of chargeability is generally the country of one’s birth.

The date in the box that corresponds to one’s category and country indicates whether or not there is an available visa number for a given priority date. The dates are referred to as cutoff dates. There are visa numbers for those cases with priority dates prior to the cutoff dates. The length of time between one’s priority date and the cutoff date provides a very rough idea of the expected waiting time for one’s case. However, it is not a simple, straight line calculation at all.

What to do if Your Date is Available

If one’s priority date is available, or close to available, it may be time to take further action in the case. The appropriate steps depend upon many factors, including what other filings have been made, where the sponsored individual is located (in the U.S. or abroad), whether any immigration violations or other problems are in her/his history, and the like. Such issues should be discussed with a qualified immigration attorney.

It is also important to get information about documents – particularly those needed from outside the United States – that will be needed at some time to move forward with the case. It is often important to get an idea of the expected costs involved in the upcoming steps, in order to plan accordingly. The filing fees alone can represent a significant expense, particularly for those with multiple family members seeking green cards simultaneously.

Conclusion: Where to Learn More

Readers who would like to learn more on this topic can search MurthyDotCom for numerous articles on visa dates and related topics. We follow the movement of priority dates in the visa bulletin each month. We provide reliable, up-to-date predictions about cutoff date movement to our readers as it becomes available.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.