Employment-based preference green cards are limited to at least 140,000 per year. The green cards are divided into several sub-categories, each of which receives a certain percentage of the overall green card allocation as prescribed by law. In addition, there are prescribed green card limits linked to country of origin — technically referred to as country of “chargeability,” which is usually the country of birth.
The Department of State (DOS) allocates green cards according to a prospective immigrant’s preference category, country of chargeability and priority date. The priority date is used to determine an immigrant’s place in the queue.
When the priority date becomes available, or is “current,” immigrants may proceed with the final step of the green card process — filing an Application for Adjustment of Status (AOS) through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), or an immigrant visa application at the U.S. Consulate, if otherwise eligible.
Visa Bulletin and priority date
The DOS publishes current immigrant visa (green card) availability in a document updated monthly called the Visa Bulletin. The Visa Bulletin indicates when statutorily limited green cards are available to prospective immigrants based on factors such as their individual priority date, preference category and country of chargeability.
Specifics regarding individual priority date are:
- If an individual’s preference category requires a labor certification from the Department of Labor (DOL), then their priority date is established as the date the DOL accepts the labor certification application for processing by DOL. To preserve the priority date, the petitioner must file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, with USCIS within 180 days of the DOL approval date on the labor certification, or else the labor certification is no longer valid.
- If an individual’s preference category does not require a DOL labor certification, then their priority date is established as the date USCIS accepts Form I-140 for processing to classify the sponsored worker under the requested preference category.
- If an individual is a fourth-preference special immigrant (religious worker), then their priority date is the date USCIS accepts Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er) or Special Immigrant, for processing.
- If an individual is a fifth preference investor, then their priority date is the date USCIS accepts Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, for processing.
Checking place in the visa queue
The Visa Bulletin is published monthly on the DOS website. It allows foreign nationals to essentially check their place in the green-card queue. The bulletin establishes priority dates currently eligible for final green card adjudication, based on categories and specific country chargeability.
A green card is available to an individual and permanent resident status may be granted when their priority date is earlier than the cut-off date shown for their preference category and country of chargeability in the “Final Action Dates” Chart in the Visa Bulletin.
The demand for green cards by prospective immigrants is almost universally much greater than the number of cards available according to established legislative limits, which results in delays based on priority date, preference category and the country of chargeability.
When the demand for green cards exceeds the supply for a particular preference category and country of chargeability, DOS considers the category and country “oversubscribed” and applies the cut-off date to keep the allocation within the statutory limits.
In some rare cases, the demand for green cards is less than the supply in a particular preference category and country of chargeability. In this situation, the Visa Bulletin shows that category as “C,” meaning that green cards are currently – or immediately – available to all qualified applicants in that particular preference category and country of chargeability.
If the Visa Bulletin shows “U” in a category, this means that green cards are temporarily unavailable to all applicants in that particular preference category and/or country of chargeability.
In addition to the “Final Action Dates” Chart, the DOS publishes a “Dates for Filing” Chart when there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas.
After the DOS publishes its monthly Visa Bulletin, USCIS will instruct applicants on its website whether they may use the “Dates for Filing” Chart and file their AOS applications. While USCIS will not adjudicate the AOS application until the applicant’s priority date is current, the agency will adjudicate the ancillary EAD/AP applications.