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Priority Dates Move Forward for Immigration Preference Categories

inside-the-esb-2-905831-m.jpgThe U.S. Department of State has recently issued its September 2013 Visa Bulletin, which is a monthly bulletin that publishes the current “priority dates” for each of the immigration preference categories. The concept of priority dates is very important in immigration law as it determines how long it will take for a foreign national to obtain a green card.

What is a Priority Date?

There is not an unlimited number of green cards given out each year. Congress has set firm numerical limits on how many foreign nationals can receive green cards every year and divided its green card allotments among different preference categories. For example, one of the categories is the employment-based third preference category (EB-3), which is further subdivided into countries of origin. To qualify for the EB-3 category, the foreign national need only possess a Bachelor’s degree or two years of work experience/training.

Because there are more foreign nationals who qualify for an EB-3 green card than there are green cards available in a given year, this category has become “backlogged” and many foreign nationals in this category have to wait until a green card number is available to them. Many of the preference categories are similarly backlogged, which has resulted in long wait times for many foreign nationals.

To help allocate the green cards, every foreign national is assigned a priority date. For the employment-based categories, the priority date is the date the foreign worker’s employer submitted the labor certification on behalf of the worker. For the family-based categories, the priority date is the date U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received the I-130 Petition filed on behalf of the foreign family member.

What is the Visa Bulletin?

Once the foreign national has the priority date, the national can check the monthly Visa Bulletin to find out if the priority date is “current.” If the priority date is current, then the foreign national can file the actual green card application.

For example, the September 2013 Visa Bulletin was just issued and, according to the Bulletin, the current priority date for the EB-3 category for Indian nationals is June 15, 2008. Therefore, beginning on September 1, 2013, only Indian nationals in the EB-3 category with priority dates earlier than June 15, 2008 will be eligible to apply for their green cards.

Additionally, the September 2013 Bulletin shows that for the first time in a long time, the family-based category for spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents (F2A category) is current for all priority dates. This means that any foreign national with an F2A priority date may apply for his/her green card in September.

It is very important to check the Visa Bulletin as soon as it is released by the Department of State in order to see if your priority date is current.

What Should I Do if My Priority Date Becomes Current?

If you see that your priority date will be current in the coming month, you should begin gathering the necessary documents and supporting evidence needed for your green card application. You should try to file your green card application on or after the first day of the month in which your priority date is current.

Once a priority date becomes current, it will remain current for the entire month. However, at the end of the month, if USCIS receives a sufficient amount of green card applications for a given category, the priority date in that category could retrogress, or move backward. Therefore, if you did not file your green card application when your date became current, you may be stuck waiting for your date to become current again.

The Rant

The forward movement in the F2A category is very encouraging as it will allow many foreign nationals who have been waiting years for their priority date to become current to apply for their green cards. Although the date will likely retrogress in the next few months, the forward trend will hopefully continue for other preference categories as well.

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