We get that question frequently from both individuals and employers, so here’s a quick rundown of what you should know.
U.S. immigration law caps the number of green cards issued per year for employment-based categories at 140,000 and for family-based categories at 226,000. Each green card category is subject to a quota not only on the number of green card applications that can be approved each fiscal year, but also the number of applicants from each country.
Under the country cap, no single country can account for more than 7 percent of the green cards in any category. If the number of green card petitions from individuals from a country outstrips the available supply, they must wait for a green card number to become available.
The Visa Bulletin shows which green card petitions from which countries can move forward and which petitions must continue to wait in line. The Department of State publishes the Visa Bulletin every month, typically during the second week of the month.
To find out whether you, your family member or your prospective employee face waiting in line for a green card, you need to know your category and your priority date. Your priority date is either the date your employer or family member filed a green card petition on your behalf to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the date the Department of Labor accepted a labor certification.
Exception: If you are an “immediate relative”—the spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen—then a visa number is always automatically available to you, so you don’t have to wait in line for your green card or refer to the Visa Bulletin.
Filing Date vs. Final Action
The Visa Bulletin shows the priority date cutoff for each category of permanent resident application—both the “Date for Filing” and “Final Action Date.”
The Date for Filing determines whether you are eligible to submit your final permanent residence application. The Final Action Date indicates which priority dates have reached the front of the line and can be approved for their green card by the State Department. USCIS publishes its own monthly report, which indicates the set of dates it is currently using.
In green card categories that experience heavy demand, the priority cutoff date may go backward rather than advance as the fiscal year progresses. Called “retrogression,” that backward movement means a longer wait for a green card.
How to Read the Visa Bulletin
According to the family-sponsored chart below, if you are a U.S. citizen and are sponsoring your unmarried son or daughter (F1), who was born in the Philippines, the current priority date is March 15, 2007, or earlier. That means if you submitted a green card petition on your son or daughter’s behalf on, say, March 1, 2007, the petition can now be approved. If you submitted a petition on July 1, 2007, you must still wait.
Source: Visa Bulletin for February 2019
According to the employment-based chart below, all EB-1A, B, and C candidates from all countries currently face a wait for a green card number to become available. If you are, for example, petitioning for an EB-1A green card (1st) for yourself or your prospective employee who is originally from Poland, you must continue to wait unless you have a priority date of Oct. 1, 2017, or earlier. Individuals from China and India must continue to wait unless they have a priority date of Dec. 15, 2016, or earlier.
This chart shows that only individuals from China and India face waits for EB-2 green cards, such as the EB-2 Green Cards for Advanced Degree Professionals or the EB-2 National Interest Waiver. Individuals from all other countries are “current,” which means EB-2 green cards are immediately available for those individuals.
Source: Visa Bulletin for February 2019
Because the EB-5 Regional Center program is tied to the federal budget—and President Trump and congressional leaders have failed to agree on a new funding bill since last month—it is considered “unauthorized.” As such, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) currently is not accepting EB-5 regional center green card petitions.
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