What’s a priority date?

The government uses a “priority date” to determine a foreign national’s place in a queue for an immigrant visa. Unless the foreign national is an immediate relative, their priority date will determine when they may apply to immigrate to the United States. There are a limited number of green cards that can be issued in any given year for foreign nationals who are not immediate relatives of U.S. citizens: 226,000 for family-based petitions and 140,000 for employment-based petitions. Therefore, the government uses a priority date to place people in the waiting queue. For family-based immigration, certain self-petitioners, some employment-based immigrants and certain investors, the priority date is the date the USCIS receives a properly filed immigrant petition. For other employment-based immigrants, the priority date depends upon whether a labor certification (PERM) was required or not. Where a PERM is required, the priority date is set on the day the PERM is with the U.S. Department of Labor. When a PERM is not required, the priority date is set on the day USCIS accepts a properly filed I-140 petition for processing. The U.S. Department of State publishes a visa bulletin every month stating which priority dates they will be processing in the coming month for permanent residence. Foreign nationals waiting in line may check the visa bulletin to find out where they are in the queue.