What Are Green Card “Priority Dates”?

Q#1: I have heard that it can take many years for a family member or employee that I sponsor to actually receive their Green Card, whether they are here inside the United States or waiting abroad. Why does it take so long?

immigration lawyers discussing about green card Roach & Bishop Law

A#1: Each year, there are a set amount of Green Cards available (around 1 million), and this total is broken down into multiple categories. The two largest categories are sponsorship through family and sponsorship through employers. Depending on how you are related to the family member you sponsored (spouse, sibling, child), or the skill level of the worker you sponsored (advanced degree, 2 years of experience, no experience needed), then the processing times can be faster or slower based on the category you fall into.

Q#2: Does my country of origin have anything to do with my Priority Date?

A#2: Yes. In addition to the category breakdowns above, the Priority Dates are further broken down by a person’s country of birth. There are five categories: China, India, Mexico, the Philippines, and all remaining countries.

Q#3: As an example, if I am a U.S. Citizen applying for my Mexican wife to get her Green Card, how long are the wait times based on these Priority Dates?

A#3: If you are a U.S. Citizen sponsoring your spouse, you have what is considered an “Immediately Available” Green Card application and don’t have to wait in the Priority Date line. However, even though you have an immediately available Green Card, the government still takes a very long time to process that application. But, let’s say that you are a Green Card holder and you want to apply for your Mexican spouse to get their Green Card also, in that case the Priority Date backlog is February 1, 2019 which means that it is over 4.5 years to process your spouse’s case and immigrate them to the United States. 

Q#4: Where can I find the currently posted Priority Dates? 

A#4: Each month, the Immigration Service publishes the “Visa Bulletin” which lists the current Priority Dates for every category and for every country. By reviewing the Visa Bulletin each month, people can determine where they are in line and when they might be granted a Green Card.

Q#5: Which categories have the longest wait times?

A#5: Currently, US Citizens who filed for their Mexican Married Sons/Daughters have a 25+ year backlog. Specifically, people who filed on May 27, 1998 are currently being granted their Green Cards. Additionally, US Citizens who filed for their Mexican Brothers/Sisters are not much better. Their Priority Dates are September 15, 2000, which means that they have been waiting 23+ years to be granted a Green Card.

Q#6: Does each category in the Visa Bulletin move forward each month? Or are there months when the Priority Dates actually go backwards?

A#6: Although the Priority Dates are supposed to advance each month, the Government’s ability to process and track these applications is not perfect. Additionally, people changing categories and applicants qualifying for their Green Cards in other manners means that the Government’s ability to track available visas is not perfect. So, although these numbers typically advance, there have also been months, or even years, when the visa numbers have retrogressed.

Q#7: What if I have an application that was filed a long time ago but I now have a 21-year-old U.S. Citizen child or a U.S. Citizen spouse? Can I change my category?

Eamonn Roach Immigration Law at Roach and Bishop Law

A#7: Potentially, yes. Our office has worked with clients that had multiple ways to qualify for a Green Card, even if their Priority Date was not yet current or had retrogressed. If you have questions about your Priority Date and your ability to file for your Green Card, you should talk to an Immigration Attorney to determine your options.

Eamonn P.S. Roach is an attorney of the firm Roach & Bishop, LLP in Pasco, Washington, who practices immigration law. This information does not constitute legal advice. It is possible that this information does not apply to you. Each case depends on specific facts. If you have questions regarding the immigration laws that you would like answered in this column, please send them to: Eamonn P.S. Roach, 9221 Sandifur Pkwy, Suite C., Pasco, WA 99301, phone: (509) 547-7587, fax: (509) 547-7745; or email eroach@roachlaw.com.

To read this blog in Spanish, click here.

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At Roach & Bishop, we are more than just a law firm. We are a team of dedicated local lawyers with over 60 years of experience, committed to serving our community with integrity, determination, and a deep understanding of the law. Our practice areas span from immigration to criminal defense, from family law to estate planning, and beyond. We’ve handled hundreds, even thousands, of cases, always striving to achieve the best possible outcomes for our clients.

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