The U.S. Immigration Quota System.
Priority Dates and How they Work
The USA has an annual quota on the number of green cards it gives out to immigrants in the various categories that qualify for green cards. The annual quota is for the fiscal year (“FY"?) of the USA, namely October 1- September 30.
There are the family categories (or as they are known, the Family Preferences e.g. Sons and daughters of U.S. citizens,Spouse of Permanent Residents etc.) and the Employment categories (Employment Preferences e.g. People of extraordinary ability in the sciences; People with Bachelor degrees whose skills are in short supply in the USA etc.)
In most of these “Preferences? there is a backlog, which means that there are more people who are eligible to get green cards, than there are green cards available from the quota each year. So there are lines in the different categories.
When a person applies for permanent residence in one of these categories, the date of the application is basically his/her “priority date"? This is provided that the application is ultimately approved.
So a person’s application may be approved, but because of the backlogged quota system in most of the Preferences, there probably will not be a green card available at that time.
How does a person know, when they are at the front of the line to get their green cards?
Each month the State Department issues the Visa Bulletin, which informs the public, which people in the various preferences are at the front of the line to get their permanent residency.
The State Department does not mention the people by name, but rather gives the priority dates that are “current"?
When a person’s priority date is current, they are entitled to file for the final processing for their permanent residence (green cards.)
Guestimates on when a person may expect his/her priority date to be current
I have carefully used the word“guestimates"? and not “estimates,�? because the only information that is available in the Visa Bulletin is how long the person, who now at the front of the line had to wait to get there.
So if a person’s Priority Date is June 1,2005 and their priority became current on June 1, 2009, they had to wait in the line for 4 years in their preference category. This information does not guarantee that someone, who applies in the exact same preference category on June 1, 2009, will have to wait the same amount of time. There could be many more people in front of the person, who applies on June 1, 2009, than were in front of the person who applied in June 2005.
The calculation is further complicated by the fact that there is a limit on the number of green cards that may be given to any particular country in any given year. For the most part all countries are equally backed up, except China,India, Mexico and the Philippines, which are backed up further.