If you are considering, or already have applied for a green card, you no doubt have heard the term “priority date.” This date determines when you will be eligible for an immigrant visa. Though priority dates apply to both family and employment immigration matters, I will focus only on the latter here.
As you can imagine, the earlier your priority date, the sooner you can receive your green card. Your priority date is like the number you have on your ticket when you visit the delicatessen counter of a supermarket in the U.S., or when you visit, for example, a Bank of China branch office. Those with numbers lower than yours will be served first, while you will have to wait your turn until your number is called. Your green card priority date operates the same way. In turn, your priority date depends on the type of employment green card process you have.
Employment immigration occurs via as many as three steps. In many cases, the first step is a labor certification, a process by which your employer certifies an inability to find able, willing, qualified and available U.S. workers for the job the employer is offering to you. Then, assuming the government approves the labor certification, the second step involves the filing of an immigration petition for alien worker, via form I-140. If this petition is approved, then the third and final step for a green card is either an adjustment of status, via form I-485 (if you wish to receive your green card without leaving the U.S.) or via consular processing (if you are outside the U.S., or you leave the U.S.) at a U.S. consulate or embassy.
Note that some employment immigration situations do not require a labor certification, that is, they involve only the latter two steps mentioned above. Such situations are any “first preference” employment petitions (extraordinary ability aliens, outstanding researchers or professors and multinational executives or mangers) plus those seeking a national interest waiver.
Regardless of your type of employment green card process, you receive a priority date only if and when your I-140 petition is approved. Once that approval occurs, then your priority date would be the filing date for your
- - labor certification, if your green card process required a labor certification
- - immigrant petition I-140, if your green card process did not require a labor certification
In another post, I will explain how to estimate how long you must wait for your green card.
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