The process to get a Green Card and move to the U.S is a long and complicated procedure. There are many forms to fill, fees to pay, and documents to submit.
The first step of the immigrant visa process is the petition which a family member or an employer must file. The petition must go through different U.S institutions for review. This is the step that takes the longest. If approved you must then apply for the actual immigrant visa from your home country After you apply for the immigrant visa, you must then wait to hear back from the U.S Embassy on whether you got the visa or not.
Since this is a frustrating procedure, many people who have applied or want to apply wonder how long does it take to get a Green Card. The time it takes to review petition is the longest, while visa approvals at the end take much shorter times, usually a few days to a few weeks.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Green Card?
It takes 5-6 months for a green card application to be processed. However, the time it takes to get a green card depends on the type of green card that you are applying for and is as follows:
- Immediate Relative Green Cards processing takes a few months since they have no yearly cap.
- Family Preference Green Cards processing takes from 1 to 10 years depending on the wait time and yearly caps.
- Employment Based Green Cards processing takes from 1 to 4 years depending on the wait time and yearly caps.
- Diversity Lottery winners are announced within 7 months after the initial lottery applications. The visa processing after the announcements takes another 7 months.
Family Based Immigrant Visas
Family-based visas allow family members of US citizens or residents to apply for immigration in the US. Family members include spouse, children, parents, and siblings. Other relatives cannot apply for family-based visas.
There are different family based visas and some of them have yearly caps. Yearly caps mean that for a particular visa, only a few people each year will get it. After reaching the yearly cap, those who have applied that year but did not get the application processing must wait until the next period.
So if one of the family based visas are given to only 1,000 people, if you apply as the 1,001st person, you will be processed next year. Even further, if you are the 2001st person to apply, the processing will begin after two years. This means that processing times can be long and extend for years.
There are two sub-categories to the family-based immigrant visas:
Immediate Relative Visas
Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas which do not have a yearly limit, so whenever you apply, you will be processed within a few months.
The IR-1 visa which is also known as a marriage green card, therefore the processing time is also much shorter than the Family Preference Visas. The time it takes to get a green card through marriage varies from 8 to 10 months.
Family Preference visas
Family Preference Immigrant Visas have yearly limits, which means that processing time might vary from 1 year to in some rare cases 10 years. The date when an applicant’s petition will be reviewed is called a priority date. The U.S State Department posts the priority dates and they decide when they will process a certain category.
Employment Based Green Card
Employment-based green cards are given to people from countries other than the U.S by U.S employers. The employers sponsor the foreign employees for Green Cards if they cannot find a U.S citizen who is qualified, available, and willing to work.
Each year, the U.S government gives 140,000 employment visas to different categories based on percentages. The waiting times for processing are different depending on the demand for that visa. Processing times vary and could be from 1 year for visas that have a low demand to 4 or 6 years for visas with very high demand.
The visa applications based on employment are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
To make the processing time shorter, make sure that all your documents are in order and that there are no mistakes in your application. If there are mistakes or missing documents, the USCIS will send the application back. This will extend the processing time even further.
Returning Resident Immigrant Visa
A returning resident visa is for those could not return to the U.S within one year of absence, for strong reasons. You must prove to USCIS that you intended to return to the U.S but had no way of doing so.
After going through the application process, you will have to go through a visa interview again. The consular officer at the U.S Embassy will inform you whether you got the returning resident visa.
This means that there is no processing time in terms of this visa. You will know immediately whether you got your Green Card back.
The Diversity Visa allows people from countries with low rates of immigration to apply for the lottery to get a Green Card. The applications are usually in October or November, after which applicants must wait for them to be processed.
The U.S State Department processes the applications and notifies the applicants when completed. It is up to them to decide when they can post the results, and applicants must continuously check their statuses on their website. However, most often the publication of the results may take 6 to 7 months after completing the application period.
If you are then one of the selected people, you can apply for the Diversity Visa. You will need to complete the forms and submit supporting documents, which might take a few months. Even then, you must wait for the U.S Embassy to process your visa request and make a decision. Overall, you can expect to immigrate to the U.S around 2 years after you completed the initial application.