How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card?
The length of time it takes to get a green card varies depending on several factors, including the type of application you are submitting and the availability of USCIS resources. A marriage green card or spousal visa, for example, can take anywhere from 13-33 months.
Even if you’re confident that you qualify for a family-based green card, you’re probably eager to finish the process and actually hold the green card in your hand. Unfortunately, family-based green cards are not issued overnight — applying for and receiving your green card takes time.
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Exactly how much time it takes depends on a number of factors, including what type of family relationship is the basis for your green card eligibility, whether your relative holds U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residence, where you are from, where you are applying for the green card as well as whether or not U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has to ask for additional evidence while it is deciding your case. In this article, we’ll cover how long it takes to get a green card through family relationships. There are other ways to get a green card, such as through employment or as a refugee, but the process and timeline for getting a green card in those circumstances can be very different.
Keep in mind that USCIS processing times frequently change, but if you’d like to get an idea for how long you can expect to wait for your family-based green card, though, read on.
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Start-to-Finish Timelines for Family Based Green Cards
Regardless of what the relationship is between the sponsor (the U.S. citizen or green card holder family member) and the beneficiary (the person applying for the green card), getting a family-based green card involves the following steps:
- File Form I-130 (“Petition for Alien Relative”), proving the family relationship
- File Form I-485 (“Application for Adjustment of Status”), if the beneficiary is in the United States
- File Form DS-260 (“Immigrant Visa Application”), if the beneficiary is outside the United States
The main factor in how long it takes to get a green card is how long you have to wait between filing the family relationship form and applying for the green card.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) releases processing times each quarter for all forms. The current published wait times are months for Form I-130 and 20 months for Form I-485. For more current estimates, Boundless tracks USCIS processing times data every month by application type and field office. Below are the median timelines (as of May 11, 2023), according to our internal analysis.
Spouses of U.S. Citizens
If your spouse is a U.S. citizen and you currently live in the United States, it takes on average 13.5-23.5 months to get a marriage-based green card. Spouses of U.S. citizens living in the United States can file their I-130 and their I-485 at the same time (also known as “concurrent filing”).
If your spouse is a U.S. citizen and you currently live outside the United States, it takes on average 13-15 months to get a spousal visa.
Spouses of Green Card Holders
IMPORTANT UPDATE (March 24, 2023): The April 2023 Visa Bulletin saw a significant change to the F-2A family-based category (for spouses of U.S. lawful permanent residents). Due to a growing backlog of cases in this category, the “Final Action Dates” for F-2A applications are no longer “current” for the first time in several years. *“Final Action Dates” refer to applications whose priority dates have reached the front of the line and can now be adjudicated.
Although the “Final Action Dates” are no longer current, the “Dates for Filing” are still current for the F-2A category, meaning spouses of U.S. green card holders can still file their green card applications. Even though spouses of green card holders can still apply, their cases will NOT be reviewed until their priority date is current. For Mexican applicants, the “Final Action Date” (or priority date) has dropped back to November 1, 2018, and for all other applicants, to September 8, 2020. This change is likely to have a negative impact on wait times for green cards of LPR-sponsored spouses. Boundless will continue to track this change closely — stay tuned for future updates on our monthly Visa Bulletin report.
Spouses of green card holders will have to wait for a green card to become available after their sponsor files form I-130 and before they can apply for a green card from either within the United States or at a U.S. consulate abroad. In most cases, it takes about two years for a green card to become available, and the entire process takes around three years. It can take slightly longer for citizens of Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines.
If your spouse is a green card holder and you currently live in the United States, then you will wait about 13.5-23.5 months to receive your green card.
If your spouse is a green card holder and you currently live outside the United States, then you will wait about 17-33 months to receive your green card.
Widows of U.S. Citizens
Widows and widowers of U.S. citizens can apply for a green card as long as they apply within two years of their spouse’s death. The application process and timeline is similar to the marriage-based green card process for spouses of U.S. citizens, but instead of the I-130, family relationship form, widows and widowers will file Form I-360 (“Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant”).
Parents of U.S. Citizens
Like spouses of U.S. citizens, there is no limit on the number of green cards that can be given to parents of U.S. citizens. As a result, parents of U.S. citizens can usually get a green card 1-2 years of applying for a family-based green card.
Minor (under age 21) Children of U.S. Citizens
Like spouses and parents of U.S. citizens, there is no limit on the number of green cards that can be given to U.S. citizens’ children who are under 21 years old. Minor children of U.S. citizens can usually get a green card 1-2 years after starting the green card application process.
Minor (under age 21) Children of Green Card Holders
Minor children of green card holders will have to wait for a green card to become available after their sponsor files form I-130 and before they can apply for a green card from either within the United States or at a U.S. consulate abroad. Minor children of green card holders fall into the same category as spouses of green card holders, and so have a relatively shorter wait than other categories. In most cases, it takes about two years for a green card to become available, and the entire process takes around three years. It can take slightly longer for citizens of Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines.
Unmarried, Adult Children of U.S. Citizens
Start-to-finish timeline: 7-8 years; 10+ years for citizens of the Philippines; 20+ years for citizens of Mexico
Adult children of U.S. citizens have to wait for a green card to become available after their U.S. citizen parent has filed the I-130 on their behalf. The wait can be substantial, especially for citizens of Mexico.
Unmarried Adult Children of Green Card Holders
Start-to-finish timeline: 8-9 years; 10+ years for citizens of the Philippines; 20+ years for citizens of Mexico
Married Adult Children of U.S. Citizens
Start-to-finish timeline: 13-14 years; 22+ years for citizens of the Philippines and Mexico
Siblings of U.S. Citizens
Start-to-finish timeline: 14-16 years; 16+ years for citizens of India; 20+ years for citizens of Mexico; 24+ years for citizens of the Philippines
There are limits on the number of people who can come to the United States every year in all of the family-based green card categories except the spouses, parents, and minor children of U.S. citizens. Everyone else has to wait in line for a green card to become available. For more information about how this system works and how to check your spot in the line, read this resource page about the Visa Bulletin.
the bottom line
Unfortunately, the timeline to get a green card depends not only on how the sponsor and beneficiary are related but also on each individual’s circumstances and home country. Sometimes, USCIS has to ask for more information before processing an application — which adds additional time to the process.
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