There are many different categories by which a person can apply for a green card. These may include options such as marriage visas, fiancé visas, and family-based visas. The number of green cards or permanent resident visas that can be issued each year a limited based on the type of category involved. In order to make sure that the visas are distributed evenly and fairly, U.S. Immigration Services will allot visas according to the category and priority date.

Priority dates mark a person’s “place” in the queue line for visas. When the person’s date becomes active or current, they become eligible to apply for a green card. The term “priority date” may be relevant for various immigration situations, including:

  • Applications for immigrant visas
  • Requests to adjust status

Priority dates are generally located on Form I-797 “Notice of Action” for the particular petition that was filed for the applicant.

How Is an Applicant’s Priority Date Determined?

Green card priority dates are determined according to a number of factors. These change each year and also depend on the type of visa category involved. The main factors by which applicant priority dates are determined include:

  • The yearly demand and supply of immigrant visa applications
  • Limitations based on the person’s country of origin (there may be quotas associated with specific countries)
  • Yearly visa quotas for each preference category (these may also depend on the numbers of visas issued in previous years)

For some preference categories, the priority date also depends on the time that certain papers are filed. For instance, for employment-based visas, the priority date can usually be considered as the date a petition was filed with the USCIS, or the date that labor certification was processed by the DOL. For family-based visas, priority dates may be set depending on when a petition was filed with the USCIS.

What Are Some Issues to Consider When Dealing with Green Card Priority Dates?

Issues to consider when dealing with priority dates include:

  • All petitions must be filed properly in order to trigger a priority date. This means that the required signatures, fees, and requested documentation must be properly supplied by the applicant. Failure to do say may push the priority date back, or may disqualify the person from an application. Similarly, failing to submit an application altogether may have negative consequences on a person’s priority date and their place in line.
  • If there are more applicants than available visas, it can cause a priority date to be unavailable in the next month. This is called “visa retrogression” and can change a person’s eligibility or place in line.
  • Any instances of fraudulent intent in an immigration application may disqualify a person for green card eligibility.
  • Applicants can check their priority dates and place in the visa line through official USCIS Visa Bulletins. These often contain updates and important information regarding deadlines.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Green Card Priority Date Issues?

As you can see, determining green card priority dates and deadlines is no easy task. You may need to hire an immigration lawyer in your area if you need assistance with a green card application, or with any other immigration issues. Your attorney can help you determine how your priority date works, and what steps you need to take in your application. Also, if you need to appear before an immigration judge or immigration panel for an interview, your lawyer can provide legal representation during those times.