There are 2 main routes to permanent residence (green card) in the United States: employment-based and family-based. Less common routes include asylum, diversity lottery and investment.
Employment and family-based applicants are divided into different categories. In family cases, the categories depend on the family relationship. The highest priority in family cases are “Immediate Relatives”, and these are not subject to the quotas and backlogs. Immediate Relatives are spouses, children (under 21) and parents of US citizens.
Employment cases are divided based on the type of position and job requirements.
Briefly, the categories are:
First ( ) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens.
A. () Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents
B. () Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents.
: ( ) Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens.
: ( ) Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens.
(EB-1) Priority Workers – multinational managers; foreign nationals with extraordinary ability; and outstanding researchers.
(EB-2) In general, foreign nationals in positions that require a master’s degree OR a bachelor’s degree and 5 years of experience. This category also includes workers who qualify for a national Interest waiver.
(EB-3) Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers. Usually people in positions that require a bachelor’s degree or "skilled workers" whose jobs require at least 2 years of training
(EB-4). Special immigrants, e.g. religious workers.
Your priority date is generally the date that the first step in permanent residence (PR) was filed for you. This usually means the date that (a) labor certification was filed; (b) an I-140 was filed (if no labor certification was required); or (c) an I-130 was filed in a family-based case. Priority dates are important because they determine your place in the queue for the final step of the PR process. The Department of State publishes a Visa Bulletin every month, showing which priority dates are “current” for the following month. You can only file the final step of the PR process if the priority date is current. The waiting periods vary depending on your preference category and your country of birth. The length of time you must wait in line before receiving an immigrant visa or adjusting status depends on:
For more details on priority dates and wait times, see these links:
The latest Visa Bulletin, showing the current priority date, is here.
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.