Waiting for a green card can test anyone’s patience, especially if you need the green card to begin working. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to determine how long it takes to get a green card. The timing may vary substantially based on several factors, including but not limited to:
- Whether you’re applying for a green card from outside or inside the U.S.
- The type of green card you seek
- The number of green cards available in a given category
- The volume of applications the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives
- Issues that arise during the application process
With that in mind, below we discuss approximately how long it takes to get a green card for different circumstances as well as the forms required by the U.S. government for each green card category. Remember, these are only estimates and this information is current as of the publication date of this article.
How long does it take to get a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident?
People married to U.S. citizens or legal U.S. permanent residents are entitled to apply for a green card. To do so, you must submit Form I-485 and Form I-130. Where you mail the forms depends on your location and which forms you’re filing. If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, you have the advantage of being able to file both forms together. Doing so might change how long it takes to get a green card after marriage.
Currently, people married to a U.S. citizen should expect wait times between approximately 12 and 22 months after submitting an application from within the U.S. and nine to 13 months when submitting an application from outside the U.S.
The current wait time for spouses of permanent residents applying from within the U.S. is around 12 to 22 months. However, people married to permanent residents who apply from outside the U.S. should expect to wait between approximately 18 and 33 months.
How long does it take to get a family-based green card?
Other family members may also apply for family-based green cards. Eligible family members include:
- Widows of U.S. citizens
- Parents of U.S. citizens
- Minor children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents
- Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents
- Married adult children of U.S. citizens
- Siblings of U.S. citizens
Eligible family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents must submit Form I-130 and either Form I-485 or Form DS-260 based on whether they’re applying from within or outside of the U.S.
An applicant’s relation to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident may severely affect how long it takes to get a green card. For example, there are no legal caps on the number of spouses, parents and minor children of U.S. citizens who can obtain a green card each year. These individuals may expect wait times to average between one and two years.
However, minor children of permanent residents, adult children and siblings face caps that significantly increase wait times. Minor children of permanent residents might wait three to five years, while adult children and siblings might wait decades, depending on your current citizenship.
How long does it take to get an employment-based green card?
The U.S. government limits employment-based green cards. There are five general categories of employment-based green cards:
- EB-1 for people of extraordinary ability
- EB-2 for advanced degree holders
- EB-3 for skilled workers, professionals and unskilled workers
- EB-4 for certain special immigrants
- EB-5 for immigrant investors
Most immigrant workers must be sponsored by a U.S. employer who must fill out a Permanent Labor Certification (PERM) application and Form I-140. Once Form I-140 is accepted, the individual seeking a green card is given a priority date. Once a priority date is provided, the person may apply for an employment-based green card. Those seeking an employment-based green card based on EB-1, EB-4 or EB-5 eligibility might have to follow a different process.
Due to the cap on employment-based green cards, it’s difficult to estimate wait times accurately without specific details of an individual case.
How long does it take to get a humanitarian green card?
Several categories of people may apply for a humanitarian visa in the U.S. and eventually obtain a green card. The types of people who are eligible for humanitarian green cards include:
- Those who fear or experienced persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group (i.e., refugees and asylum seekers)
- Victims of human trafficking who live in the U.S.
- Victims of substantial physical or mental abuse who live in the U.S.
Refugees and asylum seekers may apply for a green card once they’ve lived in the U.S. for one year after receiving asylum or refugee status.
Human trafficking victims may receive a T visa—which may allow them to temporarily live and work in the U.S.—if they agree to help the government hold the human traffickers accountable. They may then apply for a green card after the investigation or prosecution of the traffickers, or after three years, whichever is shorter.
Victims of abuse have two avenues for seeking a green card:
- They may pursue a U visa—a nonimmigrant visa for victims of crimes—and apply for a green card after three years in the U.S. while satisfying other eligibility requirements.
- Or they may apply for a green card based on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which, despite the name, also applies to men.
Once a person applies for a green card based on these humanitarian factors, the current estimated processing time is between two to three years and can vary based on individual circumstances.
How long does it take to get a diversity lottery green card?
The dates for the registration period and instructions for the program are published by the Department of State annually. Given the high number of applicants, the odds of being selected for the diversity immigration program are extremely low. However, once selected, applicants often face a straightforward timeline before their green card is granted.
Diversity lottery program winners are usually notified within seven months of submitting their entries. Once notified, winners must complete the other requirements, including submitting their green card application with supporting documents and sitting for an interview.
The entire process may take approximately 14 months from submitting the application to receiving a green card. Application errors or other unexpected factors may increase the wait time.
How to get a green card fast
Unfortunately, there’s no way to obtain a green card on an expedited timeline. However, an experienced immigration attorney may be able to help keep your application on track and mitigate delays due to mistakes. A few ways an attorney could help are:
- Identifying the avenues through which you might qualify for a green card
- Figuring out the most advantageous strategy for your circumstances
- Identifying the required forms and completing them correctly before filing
- Rectifying any post-filing issues
- Representing you at hearings or other court appearances