The family-based green card is one of the most popular ways to become a U.S. lawful permanent resident. Despite this popularity, however, the process is not as straightforward or fast as many people perceive it to be. This is because there is a limit to the number of U.S. green cards that can be issued in a year.
Each year, a total of 226,000 family-based green cards are issued to applicants from different countries. While this might sound like a large number, the volume of people seeking green cards annually is often much higher.
This numerical cap, along with other factors, is the reason why some applicants apply for and obtain their green card within a year or two while some may need to wait several years, sometimes decades. This is primarily based on each applicant’s family-based green card preference level.
Family-Based Green Cards Categories and Processing Times
Family-based green cards can be broadly grouped into two categories. They are the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and the family preference category.
This second category is for specific, more distant family members of U.S. citizens and some specified family members of lawful permanent residents. It consists of four subgroups, the F1, F2, F3, and F4.
The relationship between the petitioner and the sponsored foreign national will determine the processing time for the green card application.
Immediate Relative Green Card
This particular visa category enjoys a higher preference over other family-based green card types for two major reasons. It does not have an annual limit, meaning there is always there is an unlimited number of visas so long the applicant and the sponsor are eligible.
Also, immediate relative applicants don’t have to worry about the green card waiting line as in other categories. The adjudication process starts as soon as the I-130 petition is received by the USCIS. Once it is approved, the green card will immediately become available.
Processing Time for Immediate Relative Applicants
Because green cards are always available for this category, both the U.S. sponsor and the beneficiary are allowed to file their I-130 petition and I-485 status adjustment form at the same time, provided the applicant is in the U.S. under a no immigrant status.
The two forms can be processed concurrently to ensure a short processing time. The period for this is approximately 6 to 12 months, depending on the service center in charge of your application.
For immediate relatives outside the U.S., concurrent processing is not allowed. You will have to wait for the I-130 petition filed by your sponsor to be approved and wait for your priority date to become current before you can apply for a family-based green card through consular processing at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence.
The processing time at this point will be dependent on the caseload at the embassy or consulate. You will need to factor in the immigration interview schedule and other consular processing requirements.
Family Preference Green Card
Unlike the immediate relative category, the family preference category has certain factors that create limits on these visas. These factors heavily determine the family-based green card processing time.
For instance, each of the subcategories in the family preference has an annual limit for immigrant visas issued each year. Once this number is reached, other applicants in that category will have to wait until the next fiscal year. Also, no country can make up more than 7% of the total visas issued in any given year. Once this percentage is reached, other applicants from that country will have to wait until the next fiscal year.
This can cause some applicants to have to wait for several years before they are able to adjust their status. Therefore, the processing time will largely depend on two main factors, one of which is the family preference subcategory you are pursuing:
Family First Preference (F1): This subcategory of the family-based green card is for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their children under 21. Its annual cap is 23,400.
Family Second Preference (F2): This is for children under 21, spouses, and unmarried sons and daughters (who are 21 years old and above) of lawful permanent residents. Its annual cap is 114,200. 77% of the green cards in this group is issued to children under 21 and spouses (F2A), while the remaining is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters (F2B).
Family Third Preference (F3): This is for married sons and daughters (of any age) of U.S. citizens, and their children under 21. Its annual cap is 23,400.
Family Fourth Preference (F4): This subcategory is for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, as well as their children under 21 and spouses, provided the U.S. citizen sponsor is at least 21 years old. It has an annual cap of 65,000.
The second factor is based on the applicant’s country of origin. Sometimes, the wait times for some applicants may be much longer than the average time. This is because certain countries usually exceed their 7% annual limit for each category, which leads to visa application backlogs.
If you are from any of these countries, you may be affected by this quota. Applicants from countries like India, Philippines, China, and Mexico may have to wait for 10 to 20 years, depending on the visa backlogs for their subcategories.
Family Preference Green Card Processing Times
Due to the annual limit attached to these green cards, the processing time is calculated by adding the I-130 processing time and how much time you will spend waiting for your green card priority date to become current.
I-130 Processing Time
This is the first step when filing a family-based green card application. This petition must be filed into the USCIS by a U.S. citizen or green card holder and must be accompanied by the required documentation to show eligibility and a qualifying family relationship.
Once the USCIS receives your petition, you will be notified via a receipt by mail. If the petition is approved, the sponsored foreign national will then need to wait until a green card is available for their category.
There is an exception to this for applicants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. As mentioned previously, they do not need to wait for a visa number as there is always an immigrant visa available for them the moment the I-130 filed on their behalf is approved.
The sponsoring family member can also expedite the process by filing both the I-130 and the I-485 adjustment of status application at the same time, as long as the beneficiary is in the U.S. Applicants who do this usually get their green cards within 6 to 12 months. Immediate relatives outside the U.S. will need to wait for the approval of their I-130 before they can apply for a green card.
Family-Based Green Card Wait Times
The processing times vary significantly among the subcategories sometimes ranging between one and more than ten years. For instance, F2A applicants (spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents), usually enjoy the shortest processing times. This is because a higher priority is given to them, coupled with the fact that the subcategory has the largest annual quota among family-based green card preferences.
Status Adjustment Application for Applicants In the U.S.
If you are in the United States, you will need to petition the USCIS for an adjustment from your current nonimmigrant status to an immigrant permanent resident status the moment a visa number becomes available to you. You will need to file the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status to adjust your status and receive your green card.
On average, the I-130 filed by your sponsor takes between 6 to 12 months to be processed. The USCIS processes the petition on a first-come, first-served basis. Your sponsor can expedite the process by submitting the form as early as possible. Also, the form must be properly filed with all the required documents attached.
For any missing documents, there will be a Request for Evidence (RFE) notification from the USCIS. This will lead to a delay and longer processing time, as your application process will be placed on hold until the documents are submitted.
Immigrant Visa Application for Applicants Outside the U.S.
If you are outside the U.S. and there is an immigrant visa number available for you (meaning your priority date is current), you will need to visit the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country to continue the family-based green card processing. You will get your visa number and schedule an appointment for your immigration interview.
You will also need to complete a biometric screening, medical examination, and submit the necessary documentation. To do this, you will need to complete a DS 260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration and bring the confirmation page to the interview.
Eligibility Criteria for Sponsoring a Family-Based Green Card
Before you can sponsor a family-based green card, you must meet the following requirements:
- You must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and provide relevant documentation such as birth or naturalization certificate or green card.
- You must demonstrate that you have the financial ability to support your sponsored family member and all other dependent members of your household. This requires showing proof of an annual income of at least 125% above the poverty guideline.
- You must prove that you have a qualifying family relationship with the foreign national green card beneficiary. A qualifying relationship means being a spouse, child (biological or adopted), or sibling.
- You must maintain your residence in the U.S.
Family-Based Green Card Eligibility Criteria for Foreign Nationals
As a foreign national family-based green card applicant, you must also prove that you have a qualifying family relationship with your sponsor, that you will not become a public charge upon arriving in the U.S. This means your sponsor can support you financially until you can support yourself.
Apart from these criteria, you must not have any issue that will make you inadmissible into the U.S. The United States immigration laws prohibit the issuance of visas to individuals whose presence will threaten the peace, health, or general well being of the U.S. residents. The following are some of the factors that can make you inadmissible or ineligible for the U.S. green card:
- Having a communicable disease
- Having a serious mental or physical disorder
- Certain past crimes, either in the U.S. or other parts of the world
- Having a substance abuse disorder
- Being a drug trafficker
- Being an illegal immigrant
- Being a terrorist or belonging to a terrorist organization
Can I Expedite the Process?
Generally, family-based green card applicants can expedite the processing time by having the petitioner file the I-130 petition properly and submit all the required documents. This, however, will only have an impact on the I-130 petition.
There is another option for beneficiaries who are F2A applicants. If the sponsor becomes a citizen while they are still on the green card waiting line, they will be able to expedite the process. In this case, your sponsor will need to send a letter to the National Visa Center indicating that he or she is now a citizen. This will pave the way for your green card application to be processed as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Family-based green card processing times keep getting longer by the day. Things can even become more even more complicated if your petition is not filed properly. Any single mistake can be very costly as it can lead to delay or denial. This is why you need an experienced family-based green card attorney.
At Immi-USA, our highly experienced green card immigration attorneys will help you file your petition. With our experience and expertise in the field, we will help you avoid the common immigration pitfalls. To schedule a consultation with one of our immigration lawyers today, you can simply fill out this contact form.