The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handles all visa petitions, green card applications, and other immigration-related requests. Understandably, the agency is often inundated with a large volume of applications, which can lead to lengthy processing times. To alleviate this wait time, USCIS offers a premium processing service that expedites the processing of multiple petitions, including employment-based petitions such as the EB2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) for an additional USD 2,500.
How Does Premium Processing Work?
Upon submitting the additional premium processing documents and fees, USCIS guarantees a 45-calendar day response time upon receiving premium processing request. USCIS will respond in one of four potential ways: (1) approve the petition; (2) issue a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) letter; (3) issue a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) letter; or (4) deny the petition. If USCIS fails to meet the 45-calendar day processing time, it will refund the premium processing fee.
Benefits of Premium Processing
The main benefit of premium processing is evidently the expedited processing time and an earlier priority date, which factors into the green card application. Furthermore, the 45-day processing guarantee provides a level of certainty for petitioners. Instances where USCIS sends an RFE Letter, petitioners will receive this information sooner, allowing them to address the issues quickly and receive a faster revert from USCIS.
What is a Priority Date and Why Does it Matter?
A priority date is the date that USCIS receives an applicant's initial I-140 application. It is indicated on the official receipt that USCIS issues upon receiving the petition.
The priority date is important and relevant because it determines the applicant's place in the queue for green cards – the earlier the priority date, the earlier the processing.
USCIS processes green card applications based on the applicant's priority date and preference category. An annual quota ascribed to the number of green cards in each preference category, with a cap on the number of green cards that can be issued per country.
Thus, the earlier the priority date, the higher the likelihood that the applicant's petition falls within the ascribed annual quota, thereby raising the likelihood of faster processing.
Nevertheless, the above-mentioned scenario is contingent on the fact that the applicant's priority date is current.
What does 'Current' mean?
Every month, the US Department of State releases a Visa Bulletin listing the processing dates for green cards in each category. If the date listed in the Visa Bulletin is before the applicant's priority date, then the applicant's priority date is not current.
For example, if the Visa Bulletin listed the date as 1 July 2022 for employment-based visas, and the applicant has a priority date of 2 July 2022, then their priority date is not current.
What Happens If the Priority Date Is Not Current?
Unfortunately, if the priority date is not current, USCIS cannot issue a green card to the applicant until their priority date becomes current.
Instead, the applicant's green card application will be placed in a queue and will remain pending until the priority date becomes current.
Non-current priority dates are a result of USCIS receiving a surplus of green card applications than the number of available green cards.
Fortunately, the Visa Bulletin is issued monthly so there are often changes to the dates and it is recommended that the applicant keep updated on this matter to ensure their documentation properly organized while awaiting their priority date to become current.
USCIS and immigration to the US can often be an overwhelming and daunting experience. The premium processing service is a helpful option for petitioners who require faster processing of their petition and granted an earlier priority date. Nevertheless, if the priority date is not current, USCIS will not process the green card application until such as time as it becomes current.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.