A change announced this month by federal immigration authorities will accelerate the filing of applications for permanent resident visas, known as green cards. For U.S. employers who sponsor green card applicants, this is welcome news that may allow valued employees and their families to receive interim Employment Authorization Cards and travel documents much earlier than before.

Visa availability is limited by statute, and the application process is severely backlogged. Employer-sponsored foreign nationals often wait for years before they can even apply for a green card under the current system, in which individual priority dates are published in the State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin. These delays create uncertainty for both the employee and the sponsoring employer.

Effective Oct. 1, 2015, a newly created "Date for Filing Application" will determine when individuals can submit their green card applications. As under current procedure, a separate date will determine when a decision will actually issue.

The accelerated filing dates are expected to allow many foreign nationals to obtain temporary employment and travel authorizations in a matter of months rather than years. Although these new procedures will not necessarily shorten the wait time for issuance of green cards, the potential benefits to foreign nationals and their employer sponsors are substantial.

One note of caution: 180 days after filing a green card application, the employee may be free to "port" — i.e., move to a new employer and still reap the benefits of the pending application filed under the former employer’s sponsorship. Employers should consider protecting their investments through green card processing reimbursement agreements with sponsored employees.