Introduction

United States employment and family-based permanent visas, green cards, are limited each year by number and by country of origin. In 2019, there will be no more than 226,000 family-sponsored visas and no more than 140,000 employment-based visas.

The United States further limits employment and family-based immigration by only allowing 7% of visa to originate from one country. This is not a quota and the United States is not required to admit a specified number of foreign nationals from one country, but rather a ceiling and the United States cannot admit more than 7% of the total visas issued to foreign nationals from one country. In 2019, approximately 25,620 visas are equivalent to 7%.

The system creates a backlog and visas are awarded on a first come, first serve basis.  To address the backlog, the Department of State and the USCIS created a complex system of priority dates.

When a priority date is current, a foreign national may apply for permanent residence. Current means that a foreign national’s individual priority date would be on or before the date published in the monthly Visa Bulletin.

Paying close attention to the priority dates is important for establishing permanent residency under the employment or family visa categories.

Obtaining A Priority Dates

An employer or family member located in the United States may petition for permanent residency on the foreign national’s behalf. An employer would file form I-140 and a foreign national would file form I-130 with their nation’s consulate. Alternatively, an immediate family member inside the United States may file on a foreign national’s behalf, which is not subject to the priority date process.

Once the respective form is received and approved by the USCIS, the foreign national will be assigned a priority date. Generally, the priority date is the same date that the employer or family member filed the application. An approved application is indicated with USCIS form I-797. The priority date is currently listed on the upper right half of the form.

Duel Chart System

The Department of State publishes two charts each month to assist foreign nationals in determining if their priority number is current. The first chart is designated as final action and the second is designated as dates for filing. The chart will either have a priority date or the letter C, which means the visa category is current as of that month.

1. Final Action Chart

The final action chart is published monthly and indicates when a visa may be available. The final action chart has the visa category on the Y-axis and nationalities on the X-axis.

To read the chart, first find the appropriate visa category along the Y-axis. Second, stay in that row but move to the right along the X-axis to the column that corresponds with the appropriate country of origin. China, Indian, Mexico, and the Philippians have separate categories due to high immigration requests, but all other countries fall under one section labeled “All those Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed.” There will either be a C, which stands for current, or a date, which is the priority date that is current.

For example, an F1 category under Family Sponsored Preferences is for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. In July of 2019, a priority date of March 8, 2012 is current for an applicant from China under the F1 visa.

Once the priority date is current, then a foreign national can file form I-485 for permanent residency if he/she were physically inside the United States and is not subject to any inadmissibility issues. For foreign nationals outside of the United States, having a current priority date means he/she could proceed to apply for an immigrant visa with the Department of State to eventually interview at the nearest US Embassy or Consulate for admission to America.

2. Dates for Filing

The second chart’s layout mimics the first. The dates for filing chart are only for foreign nationals applying through their consulate and indicate when documents can be assembled and submitted to the National Visa Center. This allows prospective aliens to file their I-485 well in advance of permanent residence being available.

Unless otherwise indicated on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website at www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo, individuals seeking to file applications for adjustment of status with USCIS in the Department of Homeland Security must use the “Final Action Dates” charts below for determining when they can file such applications. When USCIS determines that there are more immigrant visas available for the fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, USCIS will state on its website that applicants may instead use the “Dates for Filing Visa Applications” charts in this Bulletin.

3. Reading the Charts Together

In tandem, a foreign national can apply for permanent residency when his or her priority date is after the date listed on the dates for filing chart, but he or she cannot be approved until the priority date is after the date listed on the final action chart.

Multiple Priority Dates

Each subcategory has a different wait time and foreign nationals may petition under multiple visa categories if they qualify. For example, a foreign national that has a sibling and a parent who are permanent residents of the United States may apply under both visa categories.

A foreign national may retain an older priority date as long as the USCIS did not deny the petition. Consequently, a foreign national can have multiple priority dates and may apply for permanent residence under whichever priority date becomes current first.

Beneficiaries

Accompanying children and spouses have the same priority as the petitioner foreign national, or the principal visa applicant, as long as the beneficiaries were acquired prior to the admission of the principal. Marriages and children born prior to the date of admission are considered acquired before.

Conclusion

Priority dates are a critical part of filing and obtaining an employment or family-based immigration permanent visas. This Immigrating to the United States can be a length process, consulting an attorney can help ensure these critical dates are not overlooked.