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How Long Does it Take to Immigrate to the United States?

Immigrating to the United States is often a complicated process. There are three major categories of people who can immigrate to the United States. Also, individual categories can face long delays due to visa backlogs. Understanding how the system works will allow you to understand better how long it takes to immigrate to the United States.

How can US Citizen, or a Lawful Permanent Resident, File a Green Card Petition for a Family Member?

Family-based Green Card petitions fall into Immediate Relatives and Other Family Members (1st through 4th Preference).

Immediate relatives are the Spouses of United States citizens, the Children (under the age of 21) of United States citizens, and the Parents of United States citizens over 21. Visas are always available for immediate relatives of US citizens. They can file to Register for Permanent Residence or Adjust Status simultaneously as they file their family-based petition. All other family members are subject to annual numerical limits. Generally, with long wait times until an immigrant visa or adjustment of status is available.

Other Family Members (1st through 4th Preference) includes the approximately 350,000 yearly immigrants to the United States as family preference relatives.

  • 1st Preference Unmarried Sons and Daughters of US Citizens as family members are allotted 23,400 visas yearly plus any numbers not allocated to Preference.
  • 2nd preference 2A Spouses and Children, and 2B Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents are allotted 114,200 visas per year, plus the number (if any) worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000 per year plus any unused first preference numbers.
  • 3rd Preference Married Sons and Daughters of US Citizens are allotted 23,400 visas per year plus any numbers not allocated to the first and second preferences.
  • 4th preference Brothers and Sisters of Adult US Citizens are allotted 65,000 visas per year plus any numbers allocated to the first three preferences.

There are 350,000 visas available to the two million+ eligible family members. This means that most preferences have become oversubscribed, creating backlogs of one year or longer. Your family member’s preference category and country of birth will determine how long they will have to wait for an immigrant visa number before an immigrant visa or green card application may be filed. For visa availability information, see the Visa Bulletin section below.

Litwin & Smith has helped thousands of US Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents file family petitions for their spouses and family members. Our law practice is limited to US immigration and related filings. Our firm is nationally recognized as a premier immigration law firm. We routinely provide immigration assistance to foreign nationals from all over the world. When you are ready to proceed, just let us know.

How can a US Employer File a Green Card Petition for an Employee?

There are approximately 140,000 people per year who can immigrate under the five employment preferences per year. Employment preferences are as follows:

  • 1st preference Priority Workers are allocated 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level plus any numbers not allocated to fourth and fifth preferences.Filipina Nurse
  • 2nd preference Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability are allocated 28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level plus any numbers not allocated to the 1st
  • 3rd Preference Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers receive 28.6% of the worldwide level plus any numbers not allocated to the 1st and 2nd
  • 4th Preference Certain Special Immigrant visas receive 7.1% of the worldwide level.
  • 5th preference Employment Creation visas 7.1% of the worldwide level, not less than 3,000 reserved for investors in a targeted rural or high-unemployment area, and 3,000 set aside for investors in regional centers.

Even when there is no per country backlog, the average processing time for a labor certification/visa petition/adjustment of status process is approximately 1½ to 3 years.

For more information, you can also read our other articles “Would You Like to Immigrate to the United States Through Investment?” and “Would You Like to Work in the United States?.” For visa availability information, see the Visa Bulletin section below.

Litwin & Smith is a nationally recognized premiere immigration firm. We have successfully prepared and obtained nonimmigrant and subsequent immigrant visas and green cards for employees and their families. We prepare hundreds of such petitions each year. When you are ready to proceed, just let us know. You can contact us by email or by calling 888-344-0892.

What is the Visa Bulletin?

Each month, the State Department notifies the public about who can immigrate to the United States that month. The Visa Bulletin’s information is available through the Department of State, our website, or by calling (888) 316-6916. Three pieces of information are given based on each category.

  • Current means no backlog exists at all, and everyone in that category can immigrate, assuming all of the paperwork has been properly completed. When a category is current, it is noted in the Bulletin by the letter “C.”
  • Unavailable means no visas are available that month for the category. Therefore, no one who fits within that category can immigrate to the United States. When there are no numbers available, this is designated by the letter “U.”
  • The Date Listed is a Cutoff Date. Immigrant visa applications or adjustment of status applications may be filed and adjudicated where the priority date (the date of filing an I-130 or I-140 petition) is before the Cutoff date stated.
Investment Visas

Each person who is within one of the family or employment preferences is given a priority date. The priority date is the date that a visa petition was filed on the person’s behalf. By keeping track of that date, it can be estimated, by looking at the Visa Bulletin, how quickly a person will be able to immigrate to the United States.

Suppose USCIS determines more immigrant visas are available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas. In that case, applicants may use their Date of Filing to determine if they can file their application to adjustment status. Otherwise, applicants must use their Final Action Date to determine when they may file their application to adjust status. Suppose a particular immigrant visa category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart, or the cutoff date on the Final Action Dates chart is later than the date on the Dates for Filing chart. In that case, applicants in that immigrant visa category may file using the Final Action Dates chart during that month.

What Other Factors Affect my Ability to Immigrate?

Besides an overall cap as to the number of people who can immigrate to the United States in one year, other factors affect how quickly a person can immigrate to the United States, including:

The Beneficiary’s Country of Nationality

Congress has established a yearly per-country limit. Currently, four countries globally reach their maximum each year: China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines. Persons born in these countries are likely to have to wait longer to immigrate than persons in the same preference category from other countries.

The Allocations Between Visa Preferences

The law does not allocate equal numbers to each preference category, nor is there equal demand for each preference category. For example, the family 1st preference category (unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens) is allocated 23,400 visa numbers per year. The family 4th preference category (brothers and sisters of adult US citizens) is allocated 65,000 visas per year. Unfortunately, this allotment cannot meet the current demand of over 1.5 million people waiting in the Fourth Preference. Therefore, there are substantial delays in this category.

Preference Category Fall Down

The law requires that all of the allotted numbers be used each year. Under certain circumstances, one category may not use all of its numbers. When this occurs, the leftover numbers usually fall to a lower preference category. For example, suppose all the numbers allocated for family 1st preference are not used up in a year. In that case, the unused numbers will go to family 2nd Preference to be used by spouses and sons and daughters of permanent residents. Brothers and sisters of United States citizens can receive any numbers not used by the first three family preferences. Unfortunately, no unused numbers ever reach the family 4th Preference.

The information in this article does not constitute legal advice. The law is constantly changing, and we make no warranty of the accuracy of information.

This answers most of the frequently asked questions which we receive in our office. If you have questions about immigrating to the United States or any other immigration matters after reading this, please call Litwin & Smith at 888-344-0892 and arrange a consultation at either our South San Francisco or Santa Clara office. There is an initial consultation fee for the first half-hour.


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