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Priority Date

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The Priority Date in USA immigration terms is the way that USCIS (and the State Department) use to allocate you a place in the visa "queue" when a category is backlogged (more applicants than immigrant visa numbers available). This is often the case for employment based second and third preferences, and all family cases except spouses, parents and minor children of US citizens.

How is it calculated

  • If you applied for employment based labor certification, date of filing of the labor certification petition with the relevant agency, or if labor certification is not needed, date the I-140 form is filed with USCIS.
  • For family based visas, date of the filing of the I-130 petition.

Visa Bulletin

  • This gives details of which visa categories are backlogged, and if so, by how much.
  • If your "priority date" is before the date shown for the relevant visa category, it's known as "current".

My Priority Date is Current

  • If so, you can file an I-485 (Adjustment of Status) with USCIS or apply for an Immigrant Visa at a US consulate outside the USA provided you do so in the month to which the Visa Bulletin applies. The Bulletin is published monthly, around 2 weeks in advance - you can't use that month's Bulletin priorty dates until the first of the month.
  • If you have an I-485 or Immigrant Visa application in process, it can be approved if all other requirements are met and the application reaches its turn for consideration

Priority Date Not Current

  • In this case, you cannot file an I-485 or apply for an Immigrant Visa in that category
  • If you have an I-485 or Immigrant Visa application in process, it will go "on hold" until the priority date becomes current again. Or be refused if requirements are not met.

How Many Ahead in the Queue

  • ... and how long will it take for the Priority Date to become current? There is no easy way to tell.
  • The visa "year" runs from 1 October to 30 September and
  • The State Department decides the Visa Bulletin cut-off dates based on their own information about demand, information they get from USCIS about demand, and what they know about the legal limits they must adhere to.
  • Applications are not filed in constant numbers each month. For example in July 2007 an exceptionally large number of I-485 cases were filed when the employment based categories were opened for a short period.
  • For example, if you are an EB-3 (employment based third preference case) and your priority date is 15 January 2005, while the Visa Bulletin cut-off is 1 January 2003:
    • In the past, the priority date has been as late as March 2006, so some cases with priority dates anytime before then may already have been approved (and hence out of the "queue");
    • There may not be many cases left with priority dates in 2003 and 2004 (you don't know)
    • Over time, some of these cases will be abandoned due to loss of job or other reasons

Retrogression

  • Sometimes priority dates move "backwards", ie to an earlier date, or a visa category can become unavailable.
  • This can occur if too many visas have been allocated compared to previous estimations, and is done in order to respect the legal limits.
  • Usually service resumes in the new visa year, starting October.
  • Typically, priority dates move to the most forward dates around the middle of the visa year, but this is never guaranteed and some years, the pattern is different.

Family Members and Retrogression - Be Careful

  • When your priority date is current, your I-485 may be approved. Doesn't mean it will be, but it can be.
  • In order for spouse and children I-485s to be approved, the main applicant I-485 must be approved.
  • However, family units don't always get approved at the same time. Sometimes there is a delay in approving I-485 for the spouse and/or a child. This can be related to documentation or other issues.
  • If the priority date "retrogresses" then the spouse and/or children will have to wait for it to become current again before their I-485 can be approved. This can mean a long wait in a marginal immigration status (Advance Parole) and a knock-on delay in US citizenship eligibility.
  • In the meantime, the main applicant can lodge a family based petition but waiting times for spouses of permanent residents are long.

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