The process to get a Green Card and move to the U.S permanently is a long and complicated procedure. There are many forms to fill, fees to pay, and documents to submit. The multiple steps that are in place for immigrant visa applications ensure that the process is completed in a transparent way and without mistakes.
The first step of the immigrant visa process is the petition which must be filed by a family member or an employer. The petition must go through different U.S institutions to be reviewed. This is the step that takes the longest, and 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. When this question is asked, it is usually referring to the petition phase. The time it takes for a petition to be reviewed is the longest, while visa approvals at the end take much shorter times, usually a few days to a few weeks. This article will go through the different Green Card processing times for the various U.S immigrant visa types, in regards to the visa petitions.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Green Card?
Getting a green card may take from a few months up to 10 years. The processing time of a green card depends on the type of the green card that you are applying for and is as follows:
- Immediate Relative Green Cards are processed within a few months since they have no yearly cap
- Family Preference Green Cards are processed from 1 to 10 years depending on the wait time and yearly caps
- Employment Based Green Cards are processed from 1 to 4 years depending on the wait time and yearly caps
- Diversity Green Card winners are announced within 7 months after the initial lottery applications, but the visa processing after the announcements takes another 7 months.
Family Based Immigrant Visas
Family-based immigration visas are the types of visas which allow family members of U.S citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) to apply for immigration in the U.S. 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 number of people each year are selected to get it. After the yearly cap is reached, the people who have applied that year but did not get processed must wait until the next period. Visas are processed on a first-come first-serve basis.
So if one of the family based visas is 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, you will be processed 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 Immigrant Visas which do not have a yearly limit, so whenever you apply, you will be processed within a few months. This includes the following visas:
- IR-1 visa for the spouse of a U.S. citizen
- IR-2 visa for unmarried children under 21 years old of a U.S. citizen
- IR-3 visa for orphans adopted abroad by a U.S citizen
- IR-4 visa for orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
- IR-5 visa for parents of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old
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. Priority dates are posted by the U.S State Department and they decide when a certain category is processed. The priority dates are usually in the Visa Bulletin which can be found here. The annual cap for the family preference visas includes the following visas:
- F-1 visa for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children (23,400 visas);
- F-2 visa for spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) (114,200 visas);
- F-3 visa for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children (23,400 visas)
- F-4 visa for siblings of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age (65,000 visas)
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 categories for employment based immigration and the yearly number issued for each one is as follows:
- EB-1 visa for Outstanding Professionals in Academia or Research (28.6% or 40,040 visas)
- EB-2 visa for Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability (28.6% or 40,040 visas)
- EB-3 visa for Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers (28.6% or 40,040 visas)
- EB-4 visa for Certain Special Immigrants (7.1% or 9,940 visas)
- EB-5 visas for Immigrant Investors in the U.S economy (7.1% or 9,940 visas)
Similar to the family based visas which have yearly caps, the visa applications based on employment are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
In order to make the processing time shorter, you must make sure that all your documents are in order and that there are no mistakes in your application. If there are mistakes or you are missing a document, the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will have to request the documents from you, which will extend the processing time even further.
Returning Resident Immigrant Visa
A returning resident visa is needed if because of reasons that were beyond your control, you could not return to the U.S within one year of leaving for travel. You must prove to USCIS that you intended to return to the U.S but had no way of doing so and that is why you need a returning resident visa to get your Green Card back.
After going through the application process, you will have to go through a visa interview again. The consular officer at the U.S Embassy where you are applying will inform you whether you got the returning resident visa or not.
This means that there is no processing time in terms of this visa. You will know immediately whether you got your Green Card back. If you were denied the visa, then you must apply for the immigrant visa again, either a family-based or an employment-based one.
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 they are done. It is up to them to decide when they can post the results, and applicants must continuously check their statuses on the website. However, most often the results are usually posted 6 to 7 months after the application period was completed.
If you are then one of the people selected, you must go through the procedure of applying 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 in your home country 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.