Gaining a green card as an immigrant is the first step to citizenship. It also allows an individual to permanently live and work in the U.S. How long it takes to obtain a green card varies anywhere from a few months to a decade. The process of obtaining a green card is often confusing and time-consuming. This timeline is dependent on the type of green card you’re applying for, where the office processing your application is located, and other factors. Some types of green cards have a yearly quota of applications, and you have to wait until the next year for your application to be processed. Some forms of green cards have quicker turn-around rates than others.
If you are hoping to obtain a visa or green card and you have an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen, they could petition on your behalf. An immediate family member includes:
Your family member can fill out the necessary forms and submit them. However, this form of green card is subject to yearly quota caps, and this can lead to the wait being significantly longer than other green card types. The quotas place a limit on the number of visas allowed to be approved each year. If your application is too far on the waiting list to be processed, you’ll have to wait until the next processing period or even several processing periods.
Generally, the wait time for this form of green card is six months to several years, and in severe cases, up to 10 years. If the relative petitioning for you is a distant relative or a sibling, it’s likely to take longer than an immediate relative. Some U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices are busier than others, and this can also affect your wait time.
If you are a spouse of a U.S. citizen, they can petition on your behalf for a visa and a green card. This is one of the shorter routes for legal and permanent residency, and there is no yearly quota on marriage-based green cards. When a couple is engaged, a K-1 visa is available so that they can get married on U.S. soil. Then, the couple can petition for a marriage green card.
This initial marriage-based green card is called a CR-1 or conditional resident visa. The process of obtaining this green card takes around 10 to 17 months. This temporary green card lasts for two years, at which point the non-citizen spouse can apply for permanent residency as an immediate relative.
If you are married to a permanent resident of the U.S. and not a citizen, the process differs slightly and can take longer. If you live abroad, it can take anywhere from two to three years, depending on green card availability. If you live in the U.S., it can take anywhere from 30 to 40 months.
Many people apply for work-based visas, which then allow them to apply for employment-based green cards. The wait times for employment green cards depend on what field of work your job is in, your skills, and your education.
The wait time for employment-based green cards can be as little as a year in a low-competitive field or up to four to six years in highly competitive fields.
Priority workers who qualify for EB-1 employment get the highest priority because of their advanced skills or extraordinary achievements in arts, sciences, or businesses. The next priority, or EB-2, is for professionals with advanced degrees and experience in the same areas. EB-3 is for all other skilled workers and professionals. There are also categories for special immigrants and business investors. Each form of employment green card has different quotas.
Permanent residents who spend longer than a year outside of the U.S. can apply for this type of green card. You must prove that you intended to return, but you were unable to do so, and it was outside your control. There is no processing time for this green card, only the application process and interview.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) predicts the yearly quota cap at 197,000 visas for the year 2024. Generally, each year there is a cap of around 226,000 family-based green cards. This is divided into different priorities of family member preference.
This depends on the type of green card, and it can be anywhere from a few months to as many as 10 years. Family-based green cards can take as few as six months to as much as a decade, while employment-based green cards take one to six years. Priority for family-based visas depends on the closeness of your petitioning relative, and priority for employment depends on your education, skillset, and the competition in your field.
The diversity visa, or visa lottery, is one of the fastest but most competitive ways to gain a green card. If you meet the criteria and have a high school degree with two years of experience from certain countries, you can enter the visa lottery. This provides 50,000 permanent resident visas to those who are selected, and they can then begin the process of filing. From entering the lottery to having your application processed, it takes around two years.
U.S. citizens filing a petition for their parents can usually anticipate a response in about six to 12 months. Processing depends on several factors, including the specific office the petition is sent to, and it could take longer. If the petitioner’s parents live in the U.S., you can file both necessary forms.
If your application is done right the first time, the process will be much quicker. Contact U.S. Law Center today to see how we can help with the filing, petitioning, and application processes.