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When is Your Priority Date Becoming Current: Should You Check USCIS Processing Times or DOS Visa Bulletin?
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People are often confused when you start talking about the USCIS Processing Times and Department of State (DOS) Visa Bulletin. Many think that the USCIS Processing Times and Visa Bulletin are same, but this is absolutely incorrect. Processing times for petitions and applications are very different from the waiting times or priority dates.

Let us take a look at the following definitions to differentiate Processing Times and Visa Bulletin more clearly:

  • USCIS Processing Times — these give the USCIS’ estimations for how long it will take USCIS to process a class of petitions, applications, or other type of request.

  • DOS Visa Bulletin (Priority dates) — this establishes the approximate waiting times to obtain an immigrant visa or green card, based on a petition that has been approved by the USCIS.

In a broad sense, if you intend to become a Permanent Residents (Green Card holder) of the U.S., you have to go through two steps:

STEP 1: An employer or relative must file an immigrant petition with the USCIS on your behalf, and the USCIS must approve that immigrant petition for you. The immigrant petition could be family based or employment based.

NOTE:This is where the USCIS Processing Times would come into picture. You would be watching the estimated time USCIS takes to approve an immigrant visa petition in the particular category your petition falls into. The processing times are just that; how long it is taking USCIS to process petitions in a specific category.

STEP 2: An immigrant visa number, through the Department of State, must be immediately available to you, even if you are in the United States, in order to be able to become a lawful permanent resident.

NOTE: This is where the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin comes into the picture. After an immigrant petition is approved, the visa number must also be available before you may apply for Adjustment of Status(if inside the U.S.) or Consular Processing (if outside the U.S.).

Let us now see if we can get a clear understanding of the differences between USCIS Processing Times and DOS Visa Bulletin (Priority dates):

The DOS issues a monthly visa bulletin on the availability of immigrant visas. Because the U.S. Congress has capped the number of foreign nationals that can immigrate to the U.S. each year, an immigrant visa number is required for each person immigrating permanently to the United States. This applies whether the foreign national is seeking an Immigrant Visa at a U.S. Consulate outside the U.S., or through Adjustment of Status with USCIS inside the U.S. Immigrant visas are numerically limited by both the category and by the country of chargeability (usually the country of birth of the immigrant). Immediate relatives (spouses, parents and unmarried children under the age of 21) of U.S. citizens are granted immigrant visa numbers without limit, but all other applicants fall into “preference” categories and must wait in line for their particular category and country of chargeability.

If a category in the Visa Bulletin shows as Current (C), there is no backlog for that category for that month. If a category is Unavailable (U), then no applications for permanent residence will be accepted in that category during the month. If the foreign nationals country of chargeability (country of birth) is other than India, China, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, or the Philippines, use the “Worldwide” dates to determine whether a priority date is current. In order to be granted an immigrant visa or adjustment of status, your priority date must be before the date listed for your category and country.

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

CASE SCENARIO # 1
John, a Mexican national wants to apply for first preference family-based immigration. His priority date is 05/20/1993. According to the Visa Bulletin, the cut-off date for this group is currently 01/01/1992. Since John’s priority date is not earlier than the cut-off date, he must wait to apply for an immigrant visa or adjustment of status until the cut-off date passes his priority date (i.e. he must wait until the cut of date is 5/21/1993 or later).
 

CASE SCENARIO # 2
Benjamin is from India and has an approved third preference in family-based immigrant petition with a priority date of July 22, 1998.  According to the Sate Department, the cut-off date for the category is currently August 01, 1998.  Therefore, since Benjamin’s priority date is earlier than the cut-off date, he may apply to adjust status.

As noted above, an immigrant case is a two step process.  You have to wait in line at each store. Think of the USCIS and the State Department as two different stores – the first one is where you pick up your petition, and the second is where you get your visa. Just because waited in line the first store does not mean that you can go right to the check out in the second store. You have to wait your turn in the second store as well. The first line you have to stand in is to get your immigrant petition approved, whether it is an employment or family based petition. That is where the USCIS’ processing times come in to play.

Once USCIS approves your petition, you now must wait in the second line, waiting for your priority date to become current. In this line you monitor the Visa Bulletin while waiting so that you can gage when you get to take that final step. It is only when the priority date is current that a person would be in a position to finally adjust status or be issued an immigrant visa. The only exception to this rule is if the beneficiary of the immigrant petition is an immediate relative:  the spouse, parent, or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are not subject to the waiting times of the second line, the priority dates.

CASE SCENARIO # 3
Eric is from China applying for first preference employment-based immigration and has a priority date of 07/02/05.  The State Department has set the cut-off date for this group at 07/01/05.  Since Eric’s priority date is after the cut-off date, he must wait to apply to adjust status.

CASE SCENARIO # 4
Betty, a citizen of Australia, is married to a U.S. citizen and wants to get her immigrant visa to come to the U.S. to live with her spouse. Her spouse filed an immigrant petition for her 5 months ago that was just approved.  Because Betty is an immediate relative she does not have to wait for a priority date, she can begin the immigrant visa process right away.

Conclusion

It is vitally important to understand that the Processing Times and Visa Bulletin are two different things. When people consider only processing times, particularly with regard to I-485 cases, disappointment often results. When they think that I-130s could reunite their families, they become frustrated with the years it takes to process and the prolonged delay in bringing these families together. Therefore, you need to understand the difference between the two and the significance of both the Processing Times and Visa Bulletin when you are calculating how long it may take before you relative or employee can come to the U.S.

The above article is brought to you by "VisaPro.com". VisaPro’s US Immigration Lawyer Services include K-1 Visa, K-3, Adjustment of Status, Green Card, and over 100 Immigration Services. The information in this article is not intended to be legal advice.

If you have questions specific to your case, we suggest that you consult with the experienced immigration attorneys at http://consultattorney.visapro.com

We cover the latest happenings on work visas in Immigration Monitor, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe to Immigration Monitor.


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