If you are seeking a green card in the United States, you need to understand how priority dates determine when you can apply. A priority date essentially marks your place in line for a green card, and it is assigned when your I-130 petition is first filed.
Monitoring your priority date is essential because green card availability depends on whether your priority date is current, according to the Department of State’s monthly Visa Bulletin.
What Is a Priority Date?
When a U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsors a relative for a family-based green card, the first step is filing Form I-130 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If the I-130 petition gets approved, the petitioner is issued a priority date. This is the date when USCIS received the I-130 petition. The priority date marks the sponsored immigrant’s position in the queue for a green card.
It does not guarantee that a green card is immediately available. Rather, it determines when the applicant will be eligible to complete the green card process, either through adjustment of status within the U.S. or consular processing abroad.
Therefore, an earlier priority date is more advantageous than a later one when seeking a green card.
Checking the Visa Bulletin for Your Priority Date
Because annual quotas limit the number of green cards issued each fiscal year, not everyone with an approved I-130 can immediately complete the green card process.
The Visa Bulletin published monthly by the State Department determines when each applicant will have the chance to do so based on the priority date. The Visa Bulletin has a chart for family-sponsored immigrants and another for employment-based immigrants.
Each chart breaks down green card availability by country and category (such as F1 for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens or F2A for spouses and minor children of permanent residents).
There are two key dates provided on the Visa Bulletin:
- Final action dates: These dates determine when applicants can complete the final processing steps for their green card. You can proceed with your application if your priority date comes before the final action date shown for your specific category and country.
- Filing dates: These dates allow applicants to start the green card application process in advance. Filing dates are typically 1-3 months earlier than final action dates.
Monitoring Your Priority Date
Since green card availability can change from month to month, you must monitor the Visa Bulletin to determine when your priority date will be current. This means checking for updates each time a new Visa Bulletin is released, around the 10th-15th of each month.
Compare your priority date to the relevant final action date or filing date on the chart. Once your priority date is earlier than the date listed, you can take the applicable next steps to adjust your status or consular process. You may need to wait through backlogs and retrogression periods if demand exceeds the green card quota.
Filing with an Active Priority Date
If you are living in the United States and your priority date falls before the final action date on the Visa Bulletin, you can file Form I-485 to adjust your status. This allows you to complete the green card process from within the U.S. without having to process it through a consulate abroad.
Filing I-485 also lets you apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) at the same time as advance parole for travel. Your priority date must remain current throughout processing, or your application may be denied.
If you are overseas and your priority date is earlier than the filing dates on the Visa Bulletin, you can complete the DS-260 immigrant visa application with the National Visa Center.
This kicks off the consular processing stage. You must wait until the final action dates show your priority date is current before attending your consular interview.
Priority Date Retrogression Risks
Visa backlogs combined with high green card demand can cause priority dates to retrogress or move backward on the Visa Bulletin. This means a priority date that was previously current can suddenly become inactive again.
Retrogression typically occurs at the beginning of the fiscal year in October but can happen at any time. You should try to file for adjustment of status as soon as your priority date becomes current before retrogression occurs.
Once you submit your green card application, it will be held until your priority date is active again. You can also proactively assemble supporting documents and complete forms in preparation.
Maintaining an Active Green Card Application
If you have filed for your green card and then your priority date retrogresses, do not panic. Your application will remain valid and pending until your priority date is current again.
However, inform USCIS if you move residences so any notices will reach you. Also, update your application if there are any major status changes, such as a different employer or new dependents.
Make sure to provide copies of any new identifying documents issued. Essentially, priority date retrogression means your green card application is placed on hold.
If you keep your application updated and remain patient, you can pick up where you left off when your priority date moves forward again.
Let Pride Immigration Guide You Through the Green Card Priority Date Process
Figuring out your priority date can be one of the trickier parts of getting your green card. However, monitoring it is important since it decides when you can go through the final steps of your application. Unfortunately, these dates aren’t always set in stone — they can change or retrogress. So, you need to be diligent and patient.
The good news is you don’t have to deal with this alone. The Pride Immigration team has helped many people navigate priority dates and green card processing. If you need help with any part of your green card application, contact us today at (703) 594-4040 or online to schedule a consultation.
Beeraj Patel, Esq.
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