Obtaining a Green Card is the first step toward US citizenship – but it’s certainly not a short one to take! Today, average processing times for Green Cards can span between 7 and 56 months, depending on when you are applying for your US visa and what preference you are petitioning for.
Each year, USCIS receives around six million Green Card applications and accepts 1 million of them. Knowing what to expect and choosing your visa preference wisely can increase your chances of falling within that 16.6% of candidates who are awarded a US residency permit – quickly and successfully!
Family-based visa-preference categories allow the immediate relatives (children, parents, and spouses) of US citizens and current Green Card holders to become permanent residents of the United States. Family-based visa applications don’t include extended family members and should be formalized by filing USCIS Forms I-130 and Form I-485.
The increasing number of people looking to immigrate, combined with a shortage of visa supplies and the introduction of country caps, has stretched waiting times to 10 years or longer for some preference categories – including some family-based Green Cards.
Spouses, widowers, minor children, and parents of US citizens and Green Card holders obtain their visas within 11-58 months on average. However, adult children and siblings of US citizens – especially if immigrating from countries that exceed their annual quotas like Mexico, China, and the Philippines – might have to wait between 9 and 24+ years to receive their visa.
The EB-5 Visa program – or the Employment-Based Fifth Preference Visa – is dedicated to investors looking to start, contribute to, or gain equity in a US business. To apply for what’s known as the Job Creation visa, candidates will need to invest at least $1,050,000 (or $800,000 in Targeted Employment Areas) and create and maintain at least 10 full-time jobs for eligible US employees.
Over the years, the EB-5 Visa has represented a quick way to become a permanent resident of the US, with average processing times around 12-24 months. However, also due to the sunset time the program has undergone in 2021 and the robust backlog of applications, the current average processing time for the EB-5 Visa stands at 5-6 years.
Working with a specialized attorney can help you shorten the wait and reduce the immigration risk associated with this visa.
Employment-sponsored petitions are among the most popular types of Green Card applications and, just in 2021, nearly 200,000 people applied for one of the EB visa preferences.
Employment-based visas are referred for international professionals who are priority workers, world-class professionals, professionals with exceptional abilities, holders of advanced degrees, specialized professionals, or “special” immigrants.
While the forms required to apply for an employment-based visa are the ones with the shortest processing times (Form I-765 is usually processed in less than 4 months), it’s impossible to estimate precise waiting times for each application. Indeed, the lack of evidence, mistakes in the application, and the need for further administrative processing can stretch EB visa processing times to 1-6 years.
These timelines can be longer for applicants looking to immigrate from countries with high visa demand.
If none of the options above are suited to your individual circumstances, you might consider participating in the lottery-like program called Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV). While only 50,000 visas are available through this program each year, according to USCIS statistics, nearly 12 million people take part in the Diversity Visa Lottery annually.
The random drawing system aims to diversify the immigrant population of the US by awarding residence permits to applicants who are from countries with low numbers of immigrants in the US (i.e.: not from Canada, Mexico, Columbia, or China). Applicants must have the financial resources to support themselves and meet minimum education requirements.
The Diversity Visa Lottery has a waiting time of around 14 months, because of the time elapsing between the registration period (usually October or November) and the lottery draw (usually around May).
Other less popular Green Card types include Humanitarian Green Cards, Longtime-Resident permits, and visas for “special immigrants”. Due to the strict eligibility requirements, candidates need to meet when applying for these visas, the number of petitioners is limited and waiting times are minimal.
In any case, you should consider partnering with a specialized lawyer who can guide you in the process of choosing the best Green Card for your needs, submitting a successful application, reducing chances of error, and shortening waiting times.