Why do you need to wait so long for the Green Card?
This article will reveal the mystery behind the Green Card waiting period and certain concepts for certain green card applicants. We will also explain to you how to read the information from monthly visa bulletin. Please keep reading and get familiar with the explanations which will help you better understand the most critical parts of Green card process and where you are at during the process. The contents in this article apply to most of the applicants under Employment-based and Family-based Immigrations.
Do you really understand what visa is?
The purpose of your intended travel and other facts will determine what type of visa is required under U.S. immigration law. There are two types of visa: nonimmigrant visa, and immigrant visa.
Nonimmigrant visa is very common such as F-1, H1B, O1, P1, B1/B2, L1, J1, G1-G5 etc. Although there are a lot of more, most of the foreign nationals’ visas fall on those and are certainly very familiar with those.
But what is immigrant visa? An immigrant visa is issued to a foreign national who intends to live and work permanently in the United States, which is exactly what we usually call a Green Card (Nonimmigrant Visa= F-1, H1B, O1, P1, B1/B2, L1, J1, G1-G5 etc. ; Immigration Visa=Green Card).
Just like nonimmigrant visa, there are numbers of different categories for immigrant visas as well (F2A, F2B, E1, E2, E3, EW3, etc.). In other words, you can purse your Green Card through different ways if you are qualified. The most common types of petitions related to foreign nationals would be employment- and family-based.
I-140 (employment-based) and I-130 (family-based) are petitions that you submit to USCIS to show your intent of immigration into the USA. An approved petition will earn you a ticket until it is your time to get on board, which leads you to the final immigrant visa application (Adjustment of Status/Greencard) I-485.
If you fully understand the paragraphs above that explain the nonimmigrant/immigrant visas, you will start realizing that there are no certain relationships between them. There might be some restrictions on certain nonimmigrant visas, such as F1/J1/B1 holders are not allowed to have immigration intent, but there are no eligibility requirements across these two main visa categories to directly affect each other. They are nearly parallel to each other. Most of the foreign students or workers have a confusion that you must hold a H1B visa first before you can apply for Green Card. This might be an existing rule, however, is not set up under immigration law, but your company policy.
What is priority date (PD for short)?
Priority date is your identification in the waiting line and decides your location in the queue
Generally speaking, it is the date when a principal applicant first reveals his or her intent of immigration to the US government (submit I-140/130 petitions). The priority date will be around the time you submit your case and it will be written down on the receipt that USCIS sends to you. When you submit a I-140/130 petition USCIS, you are showing your intent to become a permanent residency (Green card holder). USCIS will check your documents to adjudicate your eligibility.
For family-sponsored applicants (I-130), the priority date is the date an immigration petition, filed on behalf of him or her, is received by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For employment-based immigration beneficiaries (I-140), the priority date is the date an immigration petition is filed at USCIS, under categories where a labor certification is not required, or when the United States Department of Labor receives a labor certification application, under categories where a labor certification is required. In all cases, the priority dates are not established until USCIS approves the immigration petition. The date establishes one's place in the queue for a family-sponsored or employment-based or permanent residency permit (also known as "green card") application.
One foreign national possess one priority date under one case type once it’s established. You will retain the PD even if you submit another case under different category as long as you are under the same case type.
An easy way to illustrate this:
- The process of your I-140/130 petitions by USCIS is like the DMV front desk checking all your documents to ensure your qualifications.
- PD is the ticket they issue to you when they believe you do not miss any documents. The earlier you get to DMV, the smaller your ticket number is, the more front you will be in the line.
- You will hold your ticket and wait in the line for the service until they call your number, which will be the day when you are eligible to submit I-485.This period of time is the so-called Green Card waiting period which we will talk about in detail in the next section.
What is the waiting period?
The overview of employment-based and family-based Green Card process:
The waiting period is the time between your priority date and the day when you are eligible to submit I-485/consular processing.
Why is there a waiting period for Greencard?
First, there limited U.S. green cards (lawful permanent residence) made available based on the place of birth* under U.S. immigration laws, at least in certain categories. When the number of applicants exceeds the availability, the waiting time appears, just like when you go shopping at Ikea and the products are out of stock. In every fiscal year, as there are way more applicants than the quota, the backlog builds up more and more as every year passes. This means the later you submit your petition, the later you will be assigned a priority date, the longer and longer you will wait. For many would-be immigrants, this means they must wait for a while after applying — sometimes ten years or more — to become eligible to become a permanent resident.
*The queue of Green Card is decided by the place of birth, not nationality. Even if you are a Chinese citizen, you may wait in the queue of Japan if you were born in Japan which is immediate available with no waiting time.
Second, even if one is immediately eligible, or has become eligible, the U.S. immigration bureaucracy tends to move slowly, adding months or even years to the process. This factor is completely out of control. Covid19 impact is the best example.
What is the Visa Bulletin?
You may consider visa bulletin as a map that shows you where you are at and how far you are from becoming a permanent resident.
The visa bulletin is issued every month by the Department of State. It shows which green card applications can move forward, based on when the I-140 or I-130 petition that starts the green card process was originally filed. It also lets you estimate how long it will take before you will be able to get your green card, based on how quickly the “line” is moving now. Once your I-140 or I-130 petition has been filed, you’ll be able to check the visa bulletin and watch your place in line move forward.
*If you’re the spouse, parent, or unmarried child (under age 21) of a U.S. citizen, you don’t even need to read the visa bulletin — there’s no green card backlog or wait time for you!
There are currently 366,000 green cards available annually, but that total is broken down into a complex category system, with a specific quota for each category. The two broadest categories are family-based green cards (226,000), and employment-based green cards (140,000).
In addition to setting an overall limit on the number of green cards that can be issued per year, an allotment system devised in the 1960s to promote diversity stipulates that no country (refer to the country of birth) can take more than 7 percent of certain types of green cards, such as those linked to employment, in any year. That might be no big deal for some countries such as Belgium (population 11 million) — in fact, no European or African countries generate enough green card demand to ever reach the country cap. But extraordinarily high demand from certain countries has led to the backlogs. In the employment category, approximately 75 percent of the backlog is Indian, the result of a growing tide of Indian migration since the 1990s, fueled by the tech boom. The rest are Chinese. Because the applicants for family-based green cards are predominantly Mexican and Filipino, the wait time for the Mexican and Filipino adult siblings of U.S. citizens, for example, is more than 20 years. You may see all those data reflected in the visa bulletin every month.
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How to read the Visa Bulletin
Compare your priority date to the cutoff date under the corresponding category of your case (column shows the country of birth, row shows the preference category) listed on the visa bulletin chart released each month to decided if you are eligible to submit I-485 in the upcoming month. The charts we use here as the examples were Visa Bulletin for August 2020 sourced from U.S. Department of State
The caps on employment-based green cards are broken down into five primary “preference categories”.
First: Priority Workers: 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, plus any numbers not required for fourth and fifth preferences.
Second: Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability: 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, plus any numbers not required by first preference.
Third: Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers: 28.6% of the worldwide level, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences, not more than 10,000 of which to "*Other Workers".
Fourth: Certain Special Immigrants: 7.1% of the worldwide level.
Fifth: Employment Creation: 7.1% of the worldwide level, not less than 3,000 of which reserved for investors in a targeted rural or high-unemployment area, and 3,000 set aside for investors in regional centers by Sec. 610 of Pub. L. 102-395.
On the chart below, the listing of a date for any class indicates that the class is oversubscribed (see paragraph 1); "C" means current, i.e., numbers are authorized for issuance to all qualified applicants; and "U" means unauthorized, i.e., numbers are not authorized for issuance. (NOTE: Numbers are authorized for issuance only for applicants whose priority date is earlier than the final action date listed below.)
|Employment-based||All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed||CHINA- mainland born||EL SALVADOR GUATEMALA HONDURAS||INDIA||MEXICO||PHILIPPINES||VIETNAM|
|Certain Religious Workers||C||C||01APR17||C||15JUN18||C||C|
|5th Non-Regional Center (C5 and T5)||C||08AUG15||C||C||C||C||22JUL17|
|5th Regional Center (I5 and R5)||C||08AUG15||C||C||C||C||22JUL17|
The caps on family-based green cards are broken down into four primary “preference categories”.
F1 (first preference): Unmarried adults (age 21 and over) who are children of U.S. citizens. The cap for this category is 23,400 green cards per year.
F2 (second preference): Spouses and unmarried children of green card holders. The overall cap for this category is 114,200 green cards per year, but it’s split into two sub-categories:
- F2A: Spouses and unmarried minor children (under age 21) of green card holders. If you are a green card holder who has applied for a green card for your spouse, this is the category you’ll need to watch when you check the visa bulletin. 77% of the second category quota goes towards this F2A sub-category (that’s 87,934 green cards per year).
- F2B: Unmarried adult children (age 21 and over) of green card holders. 23% of the second category quota goes towards this F2B sub-category (that’s 26,266 green cards per year).
F3 (third preference): Married children of U.S. citizens, regardless of age. The cap for this category is 23,400 green cards per year.
F4 (fourth preference): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. The cap for this category is 65,000 green cards per year.
The chart below reflects dates for filing visa applications within a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process. Applicants for immigrant visas who have a priority date earlier than the application date in the chart below may assemble and submit required documents to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, following receipt of notification from the National Visa Center containing detailed instructions. The application date for an oversubscribed category is the priority date of the first applicant who cannot submit documentation to the National Visa Center for an immigrant visa. If a category is designated “current,” all applicants in the relevant category may file applications, regardless of priority date.
The “C” listing indicates that the category is current, and that applications may be filed regardless of the applicant’s priority date. The listing of a date for any category indicates that only applicants with a priority date which is earlier than the listed date may file their application.
|Family-Sponsored||All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed||CHINA-mainland born||INDIA||MEXICO||PHILIPPINES|
Important terms in the Visa Bulletin
- Priority date: This is the date that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received your petition as we explained in the above paragraph.
- Current: In the context of the visa bulletin, “current” means no backlog and no wait time for a green card regardless of your priority date.
- Chargeability area: This is the green card applicant’s country of birth.
- Immediate relative: A spouse, parent, or child (under age 21) of a U.S. citizen.
- Cut-off date: The dates you see on the visa bulletin tables are called “cut-off dates.” The foreign nationals with priority dates prior to the cut-off date can submit their green card applications. Green card applicants with priority dates after the cut-off date have to wait.
Section A: Final Action Dates
The “final action dates” chart shows which priority dates have reached the front of the line. These green card applications are ready for the approval of their Green card right now. This chart is usually used by applicants present in U.S. at the point of submitting I-485.
Section B: Dates for Filing
The “dates for filing” chart shows which green card applicants who are living outside of the United States should go ahead and submit their application with the National Visa Center (NVC), which is called consular processing — even though a green card is not ready just yet. And yes, you may apply for Green card without coming to the USA. However, certain residence rules are required to follow upon receiving your Green card.
The cut-off date in the “dates for filing” chart is slightly later (1-10 months) than those in the “final action dates” chart, which allows green card applicants overseas to file their applications that much sooner.
The “dates for filing” chart is primarily directed at people who will be applying for a green card from outside the United States, but USCIS publishes a page “https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-processes-and-procedures/visa-availability-priority-dates/adjustment-of-status-filing-charts-from-the-visa-bulletin” every month that indicates whether green card applicants living in the United States can submit their green card application based on the visa bulletin’s “dates for filing” chart or whether they need to wait to meet the dates in the “final action dates” chart.
*the link might change. Check the updates on USCIS website.
What is the matter of using which chart?
As mentioned in the paragraph above, the Section B chart was designed for applicants overseas so they can have more time to collect, assemble and prepare all the required documents to the National Visa Center. This sets the ball rolling and ensures that the NVC has everything ready once your priority date appears in the “final action dates” chart and a green card is available to you. This is why section B final filing date chart is usually a couple month later than section A which allows the applicants overseas to submit their Green card application relatively earlier.
Compared to consular processing, for green card applicants who are present in the United States, I-485 application has additional benefits. When filing a green card application with USCIS (technically an I-485 form for “adjustment of status”), you can simultaneously apply for a work permit (employment authorization document I765) and travel permit (advance parole document I131) with no additional charge. For applicants who intend to work in the United States or travel outside the United States while waiting for their green card applications to be processed, these additional benefits can be invaluable.
When USCIS indicates that the aliens who are present in U.S. can use section B- filing chart for a certain month, the applicants might be able to take advantage of the time difference of a couple months to submit the application.
The Visa Bulletin will keep moving forward? The answer is NO
When there are way more applications for a certain category in a given month than USCIS was expecting, the visa bulletin will move backwards, called visa retrogression, which is most common around September, the end of the fiscal year.
Before submitting the application
If the visa retrogression happens before you submit your I485 or consular processing, unfortunately, there is nothing you can do but waiting. That’s why I always urge our clients to prepare all the documents needed for the green card applications ahead of time, at least the time-consuming and not time-sensitive documents; and be ready to file as quickly as possible once the visa bulletin shows that a green card is available to you. By missing the certain month of visa bulletin when it’s available, you risk facing a surprise retrogression in the next visa bulletin, which would close your window of opportunity for filing a green card application. And sometime the retrogression would be a year backwards, not a couple days or months. When huge retrogression like this happens, it takes more time to bump back.
After submitting the application
If you’ve already filed your green card application and there’s a visa retrogression, then there is not much to worry about. USCIS or the State Department will hold your application until you get back to the front of the line. However, since your application is under pending, you may legally stay in U.S. until your application is adjudicated. If you submitted I-765 and I131 along with I485, those two applications will be processed under normal circumstances without being affected by retrogression, which means you may wait longer for your Green card, but you can legally travel and work.
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