What Is a Priority Date & How Does It Affect International Nurses?
Exciting news doesn’t often come from the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, but last week it did. The Visa Bulletin for April 2018 (which determines Priority Date) revealed that many more Filipino nurses and Indian nurses are eligible for visas to the U.S.
This news is a result of the EB3 Priority Date advancing for Filipinos from May 1, 2016 to January 1, 2017. For Indians, the priority date moved from January 1, 2007 to February 1, 2008. Therefore, nurses from these two countries who have had a visa petition filed before the above respective dates are now eligible to complete visa processing so that they can travel.
You might be thinking: “you really lost me there.” We’ll unravel this in a minute, but first, just remember the end result: more nurses are available to complete visa processing so that they can work as Registered Nurses (RNs) in the U.S.
What is a “Priority Date”?
There are two parts to immigration for nurses:
1. Credentialing, which is largely controlled by the nurse. Credentialing includes the U.S. nursing license and other certifications needed by an international nurse.
2. The Immigration Visa process, which is controlled by the government. Immigration includes the application of the visa, security checks by the U.S. government, and verification that the individual meets visa requirements.
The immigration part of the visa process takes longer than the credentialing aspect. Therefore, it is the “bottle neck.” Irrespective of how quickly nurses get credentials, they still have to wait for the immigration process. The bottle neck looks like this:
The precise mechanism of the bottle neck is the Priority Date. This is a term defined by the date a nurse’s visa application (I-140 petition) is received by the U.S. government. It works very much like something we’ve all experienced in life.
When I was a kid, for example, I used to love going to an ice cream shop called Baskin-Robbins. I’d walk in to a crowd of people huddled around an ice cream counter, ogling at various flavors, trying to make a selection. Because there were many people seeking ice cream and only a few workers behind the counter, I’d have to wait. To mark my place, I’d take a ticket with a number on it, and after some time a person would call out, “now serving ticket 123,” and it would be my turn.
The USCIS is similar, minus the sweet aroma of freshly cooked ice cream cones. Instead of calling the ticket a “number”, they issue a “priority date” when a nurse is petitioned. Every month, they publish an updated Visa Bulletin which is in effect how they communicate “now serving” to anyone who applied on or before the Priority Date.
Here’s an example to illustrate the point. On 4/1/2017, the priority date for the Philippines was 9/15/2012, and the total number of days between 4/1/2017 and 9/15/2012 was 1,659. One year later, the number of days between the priority date and the visa bulletin date was 455 days. In the span of one year, the priority date propelled forward by 2.5 years.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs doesn’t tell us what the priority date will be in the future, but based on recent trends there is hope that the “now serving” Priority Date will continue to advance. The graph below shows the total number of days from the current date the Priority Date was, by Visa Bulletin Date.
Clearly, 455 days is a long time for a nurse to wait for a visa or for a hospital to wait for a nurse to arrive, but compared to what it was in the recent past, it has improved dramatically.
We don’t know what it will look like in another year. Applicant volume is difficult to understand – and U.S. government calculations for priority date movement is not public knowledge – but we do expect the dates to move well into 2017 during the course of 2018.
But that doesn’t change the good news of the present, which is that the demand for nurses shown by U.S. healthcare organizations is going to be better met by many more nurses who are now eligible to travel. So in honor of those nurses and hospitals who benefit from this move, treat yourself to an ice cream cone.