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Frequently Asked Questions: Green Card Quota Backlogs


Q. WHAT IS THE “QUOTA BACKLOG”?

A. The Immigration and Nationality Act limits the number of immigrant visas (“green cards”) that may be issued each Fiscal Year (October 1 through September 30) in all visa categories. In the employment-based area, nationals of each country may obtain immigrant visas (i.e., a green card) in different preference categories (i.e., EB-1, EB-2, EB-3). In addition, no one country may have more than a specific percentage of the total number of immigrant visas 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 the date of their case filing. This date is called a “Priority Date”. The priority date is the single most important factor in any immigration case.

Q. WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CATEGORIES?

A. The employment based preference categories are:

Employment-Based First Preference (EB-1)
Employment-Based Second Preference (EB-2)
Employment-Based Third Preference (EB-3)

Q. WHO QUALIFIES FOR EB-1?

A. Employment-Based First Preference (EB-1) includes:

(1) Persons with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business and athletics (those considered to be “at the top” of their field).

(2) Outstanding professors and researchers

(3) Multi-national executives and managers.

Q. WHO QUALIFIES FOR EB-2?

A. Employment-Based Second Preference (EB-2) includes:

(1) Members of professions holding advanced degrees (Master’s or Ph.D.) if the position being offered requires a Master’s or Ph.D. to perform the duties.  Holding a Master’s or Ph.D. will not in and of itself qualify you for EB-2.

(2) A position which requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree PLUS five years of progressively responsible experience will qualify for EB-2.

(3) Persons of exceptional ability in the sciences, art or business; “exceptional ability” can be thought of as “substantially better than your peers”

(4) Individuals whose immigration is in teh national interest and qualify for the “National Interest Waiver”

Q. WHO QUALIFIES FOR EB-3?

A. Employment-Based Third Preference (EB-3) includes:

(1) Professionals working in a position that requires at least a bachelor’s degree

(2) Skilled workers working in a position that requires at least two years experience or training

Q. WHAT IS THE “PRIORITY DATE”?

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

Q. WHY IS THE PRIORITY DATE IMPORTANT?

A. In order for an individual to obtain an immigrant visa (green card), a visa number (green card) must be available to you. When a visa number is available, 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. You may sign up online to have the Visa Bulletin automatically e-mailed to you by the State Department each month.

Q. CAN I GET AHEAD ON THE QUOTA BACKLOG LIST?

A. There is no way to get ahead on the list, other than filing an Immigrant Visa Petition in a higher preference category, provided that the individual and/or their position meet the criteria to do so. Otherwise, the individual must wait until eligible to apply along with others on the list before proceeding with filing 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.

Q. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE VISA CATEGORY BEING “U” (UNAVAILABLE) AND “MM/DD/YY” (QUOTA BACKLOG)?

A. Unavailable means that there are no more visas available at all for the month. If there is a date noted (i.e., 07-01-02), it is considered to be the cut-off date, and that means that there is a “quota backlog”. Only individuals who have a priority date earlier than the cut-off date may move forward with the permanent resident process.

Q. WHAT DOES “C” MEAN?

A. “Current” – this means that there is no quota backlog in this category.

Q. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “CURRENT”?

A. If there is a “C” in your employment-based category on the Visa Bulletin, then there is no quota backlog and you may proceed with your I-485 adjustment application or immigrant visa application.

Q. IF THE VISA BULLETIN SHOWS A DATE OF 6-1-02 AND MY PRIORITY DATE IS 6-1-02, IS MY PRIORITY DATE CURRENT?

A. No. In order for the priority date to be current, it must be a date prior to the date published in the Visa Bulletin.

Q. HOW OFTEN DO THE BACKLOGS CHANGE AND WILL THEY IMPROVE?

A. The priority dates considered “current” in each category are updated monthly by the Department of State, and are published in the Department’s Visa Bulletin.  The priority dates move forward and backward each month depending on the number of cases processed by the Department of State and by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. While large movements do sometimes happen towards the end of the fiscal year, the backlogs will continue to be an issue unless Congress makes more immigrant visas available.

Q. THE CUT-OFF DATE CURRENTLY LISTED IS FIVE (OR THREE AND A HALF, OR TWO) YEARS AGO. DOES THIS MEAN THAT IT WILL TAKE FIVE (OR THREE AND A HALF, OR TWO) YEARS BEFORE THE PRIORITY DATE WILL BECOME CURRENT?

A. No. It all depends on how many visas are used. Please see the answer to the above question.

Q. I HAVE AN APPROVED I-140 PETITION WITH MY PREVIOUS EMPLOYER AND MY CURRENT EMPLOYER IS SPONSORING ME NOW FOR A GREEN CARD. WHAT IS MY PRIORITY DATE?

A. You may use the Priority Date attached to the approved I-140 Petition. The Priority Date will be printed in the top portion of the Form I-797 Approval Notice. You may use this priority date when you are eligible to file your adjustment or immigrant visa application based on your current employer’s green card process.

Q. VISA AVAILABILITY IS BASED ON COUNTRY. IS THAT COUNTRY OR CITIZENSHIP OR COUNTRY OF BIRTH?

A. Your country of birth is what determines your country of chargeability.

Q. MY SPOUSE WAS BORN IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY THAN I WAS. SINCE THE I-485 IS BASED ON MY EMPLOYMENT, DOES MY SPOUSE’S COUNTRY OF BIRTH HELP ME?

A. Your spouse’s country of birth also may be used to determine chargeability. For instance, if you were born in India, but your spouse was born in France and there is a quota backlog for India, but no quota backlog for France in your preference category, you and your spouse may proceed with your immigrant process based on your spouse’s country of birth.

Q. BOTH MY WIFE AND I WERE BORN IN INDIA AND MY PRIORITY DATE IS NOT CURRENT. OUR CHILD WAS BORN IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE PRIORITY DATE FOR THAT COUNTRY IS CURRENT. CAN WE USE OUR CHILD’S COUNTRY OF BIRTH FOR ELIGIBILITY?

A. No. You can use your spouse’s country of birth for eligibility. However, your child’s country of birth cannot be used.

Q. I HAVE HEARD THAT ONLY THOSE INDIVIDUALS FROM INDIA AND CHINA ARE SUBJECT TO QUOTA BACKLOGS. I WAS NOT BORN IN ONE OF THOSE COUNTRIES. DO QUOTA BACKLOGS APPLY TO ME?

A. Yes. Quota backlogs can apply to everyone, regardless of where they are from. While the backlogs have typically affected some countries more than others, note that on the current Visa Bulletin, the backlogs apply to all countries for the EB-3 preference category.

Q. MY EMPLOYER HAS A LABOR CERTIFICATION PENDING ON MY BEHALF. DO QUOTA BACKLOGS AFFECT THE PROCESSING OF THE APPLICATION?

A. No. The labor certification process is not affected by quota backlogs.

Q. CAN I CHANGE THE VISA CATEGORY AND/OR REFILE THE LABOR CERTIFICATION TO GET AROUND THE QUOTA BACKLOGS?

A. Maybe. The visa category of a particular filing cannot be changed once the labor certification (or I-140 if there is no labor certification) has been filed. Sometimes, starting the application again if your position or qualifications has changed can result in the new application having a more favorable preference category; however, that strategy is not possible in every case.

Q. THE LABOR CERTIFICATION FILED ON MY BEHALF WAS APPROVED. CAN THE COMPANY STILL FILE THE I-140 PETITION IF THE PRIORITY DATE IS NOT CURRENT?

A. Yes. The filing and adjudication of an I-140 is not affected by the quota backlogs.

Q. MY I-485 WAS ALREADY APPROVED. HOWEVER, MY DEPENDENT’S APPLICATION IS STILL PENDING AND MY PRIORITY DATE IS NO LONGER CURRENT. IS MY DEPENDENT’S APPLICATION AFFECTED BY THE QUOTA BACKLOG SINCE MY APPLICATION IS APPROVED?

A. Yes. Even though your case was approved, your dependent’s application is still based on your priority date. USCIS cannot approve the dependent’s application until the priority date is current.

Q. THE QUOTA BACKLOGS WERE NOT IN AFFECT WHEN I FILED MY I-485 APPLICATION. DOES A QUOTA BACKLOG AFFECT ME?

A. Yes. USCIS can work on the pending application. However, it cannot approve the application unless the priority date is current.

Q. THE I-140 AND I-485 WERE CONCURRENTLY FILED AND BOTH ARE PENDING AT USCIS. WILL THE I-140 BE PROCESSED IF THE PRIORITY DATE IS NO LONGER CURRENT AND THE I-485 CANNOT BE APPROVED?

A. Yes. USCIS will continue to process the I-140 and it can be approved regardless of the quota backlog

Q. CAN I INQUIRE REGARDING THE STATUS OF AN I-485 CURRENTLY PENDING AT USCIS IF I AM SUBJECT TO A QUOTA BACKLOG?

A. No. Under USCIS guidelines, inquiries may not be made on a case unless the priority date is current.

Q. IF MY I-485 APPLICATION IS STILL PENDING, AND MY PRIORITY DATE IS NO LONGER CURRENT, WILL USCIS STILL ISSUE A FINGERPRINT NOTICE AND/OR RFE?

A. It may. USCIS can still process the case but cannot approve it until the priority date is current. Therefore, you may receive requests for evidence or biometrics appointments. It is important to comply with these requests. Even though the case cannot be approved, it can be denied for failure to provide information or show up for biometrics.

Q. MY I-485 HAS BEEN PENDING A LONG TIME DUE TO SECURITY AND BACKGROUND CHECKS. ONCE THEY CLEAR, CAN MY CASE BE APPROVED IF MY PRIORITY DATE IS NO LONGER CURRENT?

A. No. Even though the only issue may have been the security and background checks, USCIS cannot approve the case until the priority date is current.

Q. DOESN’T USCIS ASSIGN ME A VISA NUMBER WHEN THE CASE IS FILED?

A. No. Immigrant visa numbers are not assigned to a case until right before approval.

Q. CAN I STILL OBTAIN EAD CARDS AND AP DOCUMENTS IF MY I-485 IS PENDING AND I AM NOW SUBJECT TO A QUOTA BACKLOG?

A. Yes. As long as you have a pending I-485 application at USCIS, you are eligible to apply for and receive EAD and AP documents.

Q. MY ADJUSTMENT APPLICATION IS PENDING AND I RECENTLY MARRIED. CAN I ADD MY SPOUSE TO THE APPLICATION (I.E., CAN MY SPOUSE FILE THEIR I-485) IF MY PRIORITY DATE IS NOT CURRENT?

A. No. In order to add a dependent to the pending application, the priority date must be current.

Q. MY BIOMETRICS HAS ALREADY BEEN TAKEN. HOWEVER, DUE TO THE QUOTA BACKLOG, THEY MAY EXPIRE. WILL USCIS REQUIRE ME TO REDO MY BIOMETRICS?

A. Yes. Biometrics results expire after 15 months. USCIS will review the fingerprints at the time that they are ready to complete the adjudication of the I-485. If the results have expired, they will send out a new biometrics appointment notice.

Q. IF THE CASE IS PENDING AT USCIS AND CANNOT BE APPROVED DUE TO QUOTA BACKLOGS, WILL I BE REQUIRED TO PROVIDE ANY UPDATED INFORMATION OR DOCUMENTS?

A. USCIS may ask for updated employment information. However, new photos and medical exams should not be required.

Q. IF I AM NOT ABLE TO FILE THE I-485 DUE TO QUOTA BACKLOGS, IS THERE ANOTHER WAY FOR MY H-4 SPOUSE TO OBTAIN WORK AUTHORIZATION?

A. Under current regulations, your H-4 spouse may be eligible to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) if your I-140 is approved but your priority date is not yet current.

Q. IF THE I-140 PETITION FILED ON MY BEHALF IS STILL PENDING AND MY PRIORITY DATE BECOMES CURRENT, MAY I FILE MY ADJUSTMENT APPLICATION?

A. Yes, if you have an I-140 Petition pending and your Priority Date becomes current, you and your dependents may file your adjustment applications as long as the Priority Dates remain current.

Q. I AM RUNNING OUT OF H-1B TIME. WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MY H-1B STATUS IF THE QUOTA BACKLOG HOLDS UP MY GREEN CARD APPLICATION?

A. If you have an approved I-140 and are unable to proceed with the I-485 due to quota backlogs, your employer may apply to extend your H-1B time, in increments of three years. Your dependent’s H-4 status may also be extended.

If you are not the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition, you may still be able to obtain extensions, in one year increments, as long as the labor certification or I-140 petition have been pending more than 365 days.  If you are eligible for an H-1B extension under this provision, your spouse would be eligible for the H-4 EAD described above.

Q. IF I AM NOT ABLE TO FILE THE I-485 AND THEN LOSE MY JOB OR CHANGE JOBS, DOES AC21 PORTABILITY PROTECT ME?

A. No. In order to take advantage of adjustment portability, the I-140 Petition must be approved and the I-485 must be filed and pending over 180 days.

Q. DUE TO THE QUOTA BACKLOGS, I WANT TO REVIEW MY OPTIONS FOR IMMIGRATING THROUGH A U.S. CITIZEN. I HAVE MINOR U.S. CITIZEN CHILDREN AND I HAVE A U.S. CITIZEN SPOUSE, CAN THEY SPONSOR ME FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCY?

A. Unfortunately, a child cannot sponsor you for a permanent residency until they are at least 21 years old. However, if you have a U.S. citizen child who is over 21 or a U.S. citizen spouse, please contact us to discuss your options.