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Green Cards – Numerical Limits, Country Caps, Priority Date

You can get Green Card in multiple paths to live and work as a permanent resident in America. Depending on the path you take, you may come across terms like country caps, numerical limits and priority date.  In this article, we will review some of the basics of Green Cards like congress mandated numerical limits, country caps and priority dates.

Green Card Annual Numerical Limits

 There are many categories and sub categories in Green Card. Depending on the category of Green card you are applying under, you may be subject to annual numerical limits set by the congress. 

On a high level, the green card annual limits are 226,000 for family-based petitions and 140,000 for employment-based petitions. If you are applying for Green Card as an immediate family member (spouse, unmarried children under age 21, parents) of US Citizen, you are not subject to any numerical limits.

Below is a table of Green Card numeric limits by category and sub category that is put up by Migration Policy Institute.

Green Card Numerical Limits and Categories Table
Green Card Categories and Annual Numeric Limits

Green Card Country Caps or Country Limits

In addition to the numerical limits, there is a 7% limit set per country ( usually called as country cap) on the family based and employment based categories. If we do the math, for family-based category, there is a limit of 15,820 and it is 9,800 for employment-based category.

In total, a country is allocated 25,620 (15,820 + 9,800) green cards per year. The way the country caps can impact is, if there are more people applying for green cards from a country that has more population (like India), there will be more wait time for such applicants. The wait times can be few years or decades for countries like India. This is the reason for Bill S386 to remove per country caps.

Green Card Priority Date

 The concept of priority dates has come in as there are more people applying to Green than the annual limits and US Dept of State needs to way to track the applicants waiting in queue.  In short, “priority date is your place in line for getting green card”.

The priority date for Family based green cards is the date when form I-130 was properly filed with USCIS. The priority date for Employment Based categories, especially for the ones that require Labor Certification, it is the date US Department of Labor (DOL) accepts the Labor Certification for processing. If your category does not require labor certification from DOL, then it is the date USCIS accepts I-140 for processing.

The priority dates movement (nothing but your place in Green Card Queue) depend on many factors such as – how many are applying under the same category as you & how many have the same country of birth.  Also, the biggest thing is how many are already in the green card queue ahead of you.

The priority date movements are tracked in Monthly Visa Bulletin, where the current priority dates are listed by category and country of birth.

You can check USCIS Visa Availability and Priority Dates for more info


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