The Typical Green Card Timeline

Immigration Form

Immigration Form

Applying for a green card in the United States can be a complicated process if you are trying to obtain permanent residency. What is important to understand is the various categories that exist for United States green cards and to know where your specific situation fits in order to ascertain what your personal process will be for getting your green card. The best way to understand which green card to select is to understand the different categories. The categories of green cards are divided into the following groups: Family-sponsored, Employment Based, Humanitarian, and Diversity Lottery. The most current information on these waiting times per category can be found in a monthly bulletin at travel.state.gov. Here is an outlined summary of the March 2016 report for green card processing times per category:

1. Family-sponsored:

This category is immediately divided into two sub-categories: Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens and Preference Categories (Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens, Spouses and Children of Legal Permanent Residents, Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens, and Brothers and Sisters of U.S. Citizens).

               a. Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens:

This category is unique at the immigration office in that it does not have a statutory limit and the processing time is immediate. The reason for this is that this group includes: spouses, children, and (if petitioner is 21 or older) parents. If thought about practically, this makes sense given the necessity to bring one’s immediate family members to the same country. Where the process gets tricky is contemplating the various other factors below.

               b. Preference categories:

Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: It is important to note about that some countries have a longer waiting time than others. The current number of visas allowed for March is 23,400 with an average wait time of 8 years for China, 8 years for India, 21 years for Mexico, 12 years for the Philippines, and 8 years for all other nationalities. What is important to remember about this is that if the statutory limit increases, those who have already applied will be moved up in the line.

i. Married Sons and Daughters of Legal Permanent Residents (LPR’s): The current number of visas allowed is 23,400 plus any additional allowances for other higher priority categories. The average wait time is 12 years for all nationalities with the exception of 22 years for Mexico and 23 years for the Philippines.

ii. Brothers and Sisters of United States Citizens (if petitioner is 21 or over): The current limit is 65,000 visas plus any number unused by other categories that are higher in ranking. For most nationalities it is a 13-year wait with the exception of 19 years for Mexico and 24 years for the Philippines.

2. Employment Based:

a. Aliens With Extraordinary Ability, Outstanding Professors and Researchers, Multinational Executives and Managers (Categories 1A, 1B, 1C):

Currently 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level. This category is current and has no wait times.

b. Aliens With Advanced Degrees or Exceptional Ability:

Currently this includes 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level. This category is current in all nationalities except India and China. India has a 4-year wait and China has an 8-year wait.

c. Aliens With Bachelor’s Degrees or Workers in Shortage Occupations (Unskilled Workers limited to 10,000 per year):

The rest are limited to 28.6% of the worldwide level. For skilled workers, the current wait time is 4 months for all nationalities with the exception of 3 years for China, 12 years for India, and 8 years for the Philippines. For unskilled workers, the wait time is 4 months for all nationalities with the exception of 9 years for China, 12 years for India, and 8 years for the Philippines.

d. Special Immigrants:

7.1% of the worldwide level. This category is entirely current and there is no waiting time for processing.

e. Investors:

7.1% of the worldwide level; however, only 3,000 visas permitted for urban centers. Thus, it is best to apply to rural parts for the job creation visa. Right now, this category is current with the exception of a 2-year waiting period for Chinese investors.

3)  Humanitarian:

a. Overseas Refugee Admissions:

There is no limit to these applications. Although they are complicated and time consuming to prove, they do not have the same quotas as other immigrant categories.

b. Asylum:

This is the same case as mentioned above for refugee.

4)  Diversity Lottery:

The annual limit for the lottery is approximately 50,000 with the various groups quoted at: Africa 23,146, Asia 14,575, Europe 9,938, North America 694, South America 561, Oceania 647, and unknown 200. This option is great because you do not have the same quota times as other categories on this list.

Although this list and process seems daunting, it is important to remember that if you want to come to the United States, there are options to explore and you should absolutely try if this is your dream. One viable way if you are younger is to study within the United States on a student visa and gain employment connections in order to stay here, and then change the status of your visa. This has worked out quite well for people with Master’s degrees. The United States provides a wealth of opportunities. We are a nation of immigrants always looking for new members to positively contribute to our society. Plus, the U.S. economy has a plethora of needs that not all Americans can honestly fulfill.

If you are considering coming to the United States, it is highly recommended to seek legal counsel for your application so that you do not miss out on a possible opportunity based on your unique situation. Additionally, do not forget that many lawyers, law schools, and non-profits have pro bono counsel as an option to train their employees and law students on how to process immigration matters.  Best of luck to you in the process!