Statutes of Liberty: Why You’ll Wait Forever for a Green Card (Unless You’re Justin Bieber)

This sponsored column is by The Law Offices of James Montana PLLC. All questions about it are directed to James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys in the law office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm. should Located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information provided here is general in nature. If you need legal advice, contact us to visit.

We have previously addressed how to apply for a green card and how long it can take to get one. Most people immigrate permanently to the United States in one of two ways. The first way is to have a relative who is a US citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder). Another way is through a US employer who wants to hire a foreign national.

For many people, getting a green card is a “hurry up and wait” situation. Why is it taking so long? In this article, we are here to explain why.

Justin Bieber has a shorter wait time for a green card than you. The law is really stupid sometimes.

In the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Congress created different categories of green cards for both family and employment green card cases. This classification system, with modifications, survives to this day. In family cases, the categories are divided by the familial relationship of a US citizen or legal permanent resident to the immigrant. In employment cases, the categories are divided by the type of employment or qualifications required for the job.

In the family context, there are four categories: (1) unmarried adult children of US citizens; (2) Spouses and unmarried children (both adults and minors) of legal permanent residents; (3) married adult children of US citizens; and (4) siblings of US citizens.

In terms of employment, there are five categories: (1) priority workers who have exceptional ability, aka geniuses or movie stars; (2) members of the profession with advanced degrees or persons of extraordinary ability; (3) skilled workers, professionals and other workers; (4) special immigrants, including religious workers, minors abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents, and international organization retirees; and finally (5) investors.

In both family and employment cases, each category has a limited number of visas available each fiscal year. Moreover, those visas are further allocated based on the immigrant’s country of birth. Countries are divided into: (1) mainland-born Chinese (including Hong Kong); (2) India; (3) Mexico; (4) the Philippines; and (5) all other countries.

Because Congress has not increased the number of visas available in any given category in 30 years, there is a horrendous backlog for both family and employment-based cases. Sometimes we hear that people should just “wait in line” to immigrate. But how long is the wait, exactly?

The waiting time depends on your so-called “priority date”. When an employment or family application is filed on behalf of an immigrant, the immigrant receives a priority date. It is the date that the US government received the petition or other relevant documents in that person’s case. A priority date preserves an immigrant’s place in line for a green card.

Once the priority date is fixed, we can see the visa bulletin. The Department of State issues visa bulletins each month to advise prospective immigrants of where they are “in line” for a green card in any given category. The Visa Bulletin is divided into two charts: the Dates to File chart and the Final Action Dates chart.

The filing dates chart tells us when an immigrant can submit their green card application and accompanying documents. The visa bulletin must list a date equal to or later than the immigrant’s priority date to be eligible to submit the immigrant’s application. The Final Action Dates chart tells us which immigrants are actually eligible to file their application and/or be issued a green card. Again, the priority date must be the same as or later than the immigrant’s priority date.

Let’s explain with an example using the January 2024 Visa Bulletin. Mary was born in the Philippines. She is 30 years old and single. Her mother is a lawful permanent resident. Mary’s mother filed a family petition on Mary’s behalf on September 18, 2019. Therefore, Mary’s priority date is September 18, 2019. Because Mary is an adult unmarried child of a permanent resident, she is waiting in line at the family-based Second Choice. category, or F2B.

As of January 2024, adult unmarried children of permanent residents born in the Philippines can only file for their green cards if their priority date is on or before August 1, 2004. Also, the State Department is only accepting applications for those whose priority dates are on or before October 3, 2003.

Therefore, Mary would have to wait almost 16 years before she would be eligible to file a green card application with the Department of State.

Let us also give an employment based example. Canadian-born Justin Bieber filed an employment-based petition as an international pop star and requested a green card under the employment-based first category. He applied on March 21, 2023.

Great news, believers! According to the January 2024 dates for chart filing, Justin can file his application now because the State Department is “current,” or up-to-date, a first-choice case for people born anywhere other than China, India. Mexico or the Philippines. The State Department is also current when it comes to decisions.

An important note to our readers: The above dates for an explanation of filing/final processing dates apply to cases for immigrants applying for their green card at a US embassy or consulate abroad. If the immigrant is already in the United States, she should check and see which chart US Citizenship and Immigration Services is using each month so that she files her application at the appropriate time.

As always, we welcome your comments and will do our best to respond.

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