visa backlogs / priority dates

A visa must be available before a person can obtain a green card. In the employment-based categories and family categories (except for spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 18 of U.S. citizens)there are quotas on how many visas are made available each year. Because more people want a green card that there are numbers available, some people have to wait in line until there is a visa available to them. How long you wait depends on the supply and demand for your particular preference category, your priority date, and the country your visa will be charged to (usually your country of birth)

Each month, the State Department issues the visa bulletin, usually in the middle of the month. When the bulletin is issued, it will provide information that will take effect on the first day of the following month. (i.e., on 9-12-05, the DOS released the dates effective as of 10-1-05). Unfortunately, yes they can. Depending on the availability of immigrant visas, the priority dates in each category and for each country can change each month. Depending on supply and demand, priority dates can move forward and backward and stay the same. They can move very slowly or progress by several months or years. They can move forward or backward. Therefore, there is no way to anticipate what the priority date will be in a future month or when a category will become current.

The Immigration and Nationality Act sets limits on how many green card visas may be issued each Fiscal Year (October 1 through September 30) in all visa categories. In addition, nationals of each country may obtain immigrant visa (i.e., a green card), in different preference categories (i.e., EB-1, EB-2, EB-3). The law further provides that no one country may have more than a specific percentage of the total number of visa available annually. If these limits are exceeded in a particular category, for a particular nationality, a waiting list is created and applicants are placed on the list according to their “Priority Date”.

There is an annual per-country limitation of 7%. Visa issuance to any single country may not exceed this cap. Applicants compete for visas primarily on a worldwide basis. The country limitation serves to avoid monopolization of virtually all the annual limitation by applicants from only a few countries. This limitation is not a quota to which any particular country is entitled, however. A portion of the numbers provided to the Family Second preference category are exempt from this per-country cap. The American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21) removed the per-country limit in any calendar quarter in which overall applicant demand for Employment-based visa numbers is less than the total of such numbers available.

Your priority date must be current in order to be eligible to apply for the last step in the green card process. The last step is accomplished by filing an application to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident in the U.S., or by obtaining an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad. This is referred to as the priority date being “current”. The priority date is current if there is no backlog in the category, or if the priority date is on or before the date listed as current in the State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin..

If your category is employment-based and requires a labor certification, the priority date is established on the date a labor certification is filed with the State Workforce Agency. If your category is employment-based but does not require a labor certification, then the priority date is established on the date the CIS receives the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition. However, the priority date does not attach to your case until the I-140 has been approved.

Generally, the priority date is the date the I-130 petition was filed.

There is no way ahead on the list, other than filing an Immigrant Visa Petition in a higher preference category.

The current priority dates are listed each month in the Visa Bulletin published by the U.S. Department of State. The Bulletin is accessible at You may sign up online to have the Visa Bulletin automatically emailed to you by the State Department each month.

This means that your category is current and there is now waiting time. There is no quota backlog and you may proceed with your I-485 adjustment application or immigrant visa application.