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Priority Dates: An In-Depth Explanation

Priority Dates and Preference Categories

Waiting for Your Chance to Immigrate

U.S. immigration laws limit the supply of U.S. visas, but worldwide demand for them is great. As a result, the United States Department of State, the agency that issues visas, has established a system designed to treat those requesting visas fairly.

It provides visa numbers according to your preference category and priority date. Your preference category depends upon your relationship to a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident. The priority date is the date on which you can apply for a U.S. visa. It determines your place in the line to get a visa.

Preference Categories

Preference categories are as follows:

  • First preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (adult means 21 years of age or older)
  • Second preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under 21), and the unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents
  • Third preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Fourth preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens

Priority Dates

If you have filed a petition for a visa, your priority date can be found on Form I-797, Notice of Action. Priority dates depend on:

  • The supply and demand for the visa you want
  • The number of visas available to citizens of your country
  • The number of visas allocated to your particular preference category

For family-sponsored immigration, your priority date is the date you filed your visa application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) with the required fees, signatures, and supporting documentation.

For employment-based immigration, your priority date is either the date the petition was filed with USCIS or the date the labor certification application was accepted by the Department of Labor.

Employer-sponsored visas consist of five categories of workers (and their spouses and children):

EB-1 Priority Workers

  • EB-1 applicants must hold an approved Immigrant Petition for Foreign Worker, Form I-140, filed with USCIS. Labor certification is not required for any of the Priority Worker subgroups:
  • Persons with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics
  • Outstanding professors and researchers with at least three years of experience in teaching or research who are recognized internationally
  • Multinational managers or executives who have been employed for at least one of the three preceding years by the overseas affiliate, parent, subsidiary, or branch of the U.S. employer

EB-2 professionals with advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability

  • EB-2 applicants must have a labor certification approved by the Department of Labor, a U.S. job offer, and the U.S. employer must file an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, on behalf of the applicant. Applicants may apply for National Interest Waiver exemption from the job offer and labor certification, The subcategories for the EB-2 are:
  • Professionals holding an advanced degree beyond the baccalaureate degree, or a baccalaureate degree and at least five years' progressive experience in the profession
  • Persons with exceptional ability in the sciences, art, or business

EB-3 professionals, skilled workers, and needed unskilled workers

  • EB-3 applicants must have an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, filed by the prospective employer on behalf of the applicant and labor certification approved by the Department of Labor. The three subcategories of the EB-3 are:
  • Skilled workers whose jobs require a minimum of two years of training or work experience that are not temporary or seasonal
  • Professionals whose jobs require at least a baccalaureate degree from a U.S. university or college or its foreign equivalent degree
  • Unskilled workers who are capable of filling positions that require less than two years of training or experience that are not seasonal or temporary.

EB-4 special immigrants

  • EB-4 applicants must have an approved Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er) or Special Immigrant, Form I-360, and labor certification is not required. There are many subcategories for the EB-4 including, but not limited to, ministers and employees of the U.S. government abroad.

EB-5 immigrant investors

  • EB-5 applicants must file an Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, Form I-526, with USCIS. Labor certification is not required. EB-5 applications are immigrants who invest $1,000,000 in a U.S. business or $500,000 in a rural or economically depressed area of the U.S.
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