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The ABC’s Of Immigration – Western Hemisphere Priority Dates

Many visa applicants may have access to a way to expedite the immigration process without even knowing that the shortcut exists. If an applicant has a Western Hemisphere Priority Date, that applicant may be able to jump ahead in line and immigrate to the United States sooner. This article details who may have Western Hemisphere Priority Dates available and how those individuals might be able to use the priority dates to move to the front of the line.


1.   What is a priority date?


As part of the immigration paperwork process, individual applicants receive priority dates. These dates indicate the applicant's place in line, which determines when they are eligible to enter the United States. In most circumstances, the priority date is the filing date of the petition or labor certification application.


2.   What is a Western Hemisphere Priority Date (WHPD)?


A Western Hemisphere Priority Date is a type of priority date that was part of a savings clause in a 1976 law that preserved the old priority dates for aliens who qualified and registered for immigration before January 1, 1977. As part of this savings clause, certain Western Hemisphere aliens are allowed early immigration.


3.   How can I use it now?


The old priority date can be used with any properly approved visa petition filed for the alien. The new petition filed is deemed to have been filed on the previously obtained Western Hemisphere date, thus moving the applicant to the front of the line.


4.   Who is included in WHPD?


Western Hemisphere Priority Dates apply to those immigration applicants who are natives of a Western Hemisphere country. The included countries include those in North and South America, as well as the Caribbean Islands.


Also, the applicant must have been eligible to immigrate before January 1, 1977. This means that you have a WHPD if you were a principal applicant of a petition before 1977. However, this also includes children and spouses of that principal applicant, regardless of divorce or aging-out. So if your parent or spouse immigrated or was eligible to immigrate before 1977, you may benefit.


The spouse automatically received the same priority date as the immigrant visa petition if the couple was married at the time the priority date was established. Two situations arise if a person marries after receiving a WHPD. First, if the person marries a non-citizen in the United States, the immigrating spouse is not eligible for a WHPD. Secondly, if the person temporarily went to another country to get married, the date of marriage may be the WHPD for the immigrating spouse.


Whenever the principal applicant applied, his children already in existence are entitled to the parent's original priority date as long as the children are under 21 and unmarried at the time the principal applicant established a priority date. Also, if at the time the priority date was established, there was already a marriage in existence and a child was born of that marriage afterward, that later-born child can still use the priority date.


5.   How do I know if I might have a WHPD?


There are three questions that an applicant can ask to determine if they hold a WHPD.


1.   Did you ever register to immigrate or apply to immigrate before 1977?

2.   Did your parents ever register to immigrate or apply to immigrate before 1977?

3.   If you are married, do any of these questions apply to your spouse?


If the answer to ANY of these questions is YES, the applicant likely has a WHPD. However, if the answer to ALL of these questions is NO, then the applicant likely does not have a WHPD and the attorney must begin to look at alternative avenues for immigration.


5. When does a WHPD expire?


A priority date remains effective until it is used. Any unused priority date can still be used by an applicant and does not expire until the applicant has done so. For example, if a person immigrates before 1977, but then changes their mind and returns to their native country, they cannot now reapply using the same priority date. However, if a person receives a priority date before 1977, but never immigrated, that priority date is still effective.


6.   How will this help speed up the immigration process?


If the applicant has a WHPD, the applicant can likely immediately immigrate to the United States. An attorney can take the priority date and use it for any visa petition in any category that is being filed presently. Any backlog category applicant will be allowed to jump forward in line by using the early priority date.


7.   Are there still WHPDs that have not been used?


There are still many people who have not yet used their WHPD. Many may have decided not to immigrate because of different reasons, such as delays in processing.


8.   How can I find out if I have a WHPD?


Appropriate documentation will determine if an applicant has a WHPD. Applicants should look for any consular or immigration documents that they or their parents might have. Some items to look for include: old consular registration documents, Forms I-151 or other types of "green cards," national passports with stamps showing admission for permanent residence, or any other document that might show immigration-type activity, such as I-130 refusals.


However, one of the problems with the WHPD is getting the proper documentation to demonstrate that the applicant has an available WHPD. If the applicant does not have the documentation on hand, the attorney can do a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to determine if they have a WHPD. A FOIA request to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) for the immigrant's file could reveal an old Form I-550 showing an attempt to immigrate family members. The alien's file might also contain the old immigrant visa showing the date of application for the visa and date of admission to the U.S. In addition to requesting information from the BCIS, it is also helpful to make a FOIA request to the Department of State. The State Department or U.S. consular officers may have old records. In these requests, include all the information that the client knows concerning a possible WHPD. The more information that is available for the services, the more likely it is that the service will find the necessary records.


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Memphis, TN 38119
T. 800-343-4890 or 901-682-6455
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