Family-Based Green Card Processing Time | Priority Dates, Preference, Cost

Family-Based Green Card Processing Time

Many times, the most difficult part of the immigration process is the wait. Because the USCIS only allows a certain number of immigrant visas to be issued each year, the family-based green card processing time can vary from case to case. Find out what to expect in this post.

Preference Categories

The USCIS allows you, the U.S. Citizen, to petition on behalf of an immediate relative as a sponsor to obtain a green card. “Immediate relative” are defined as the following:

  • Parents
  • Spouses
  • Any unmarried children not yet 21 years old

If your relative qualifies as an immediate relative, then there will always be a visa number available immediately upon completion of the requirements.

If your family member does not qualify as an immediate relative, then you have the potential to sponsor them under a family preference category. Relatives that fall under this include:

  • First Preference: Children over 21 years old
  • Second Preference:
  • Third Preference: Married Children
  • Fourth Preference: Siblings

Relatives that qualify under the family preference category must usually wait for an available visa number.

If you, the U.S. citizen parent, file your child’s petition before he or she turns 21, their age is usually frozen from that time. Even if your child turns 21 before the petition is processed, he or she may still be considered an immediate relative under the Child Status Protection Act.

Also, if your unmarried child under 21 gets married before becoming a lawful permanent resident, then he or she will no longer qualify as an immediate relative. This could cause serious delays in your family-based green card processing time. Because of this, it is important to plan any weddings accordingly and to notify the USCIS of any changes.

What is the Process?

The overall process varies depending on whether the relative who will be receiving the green card is inside or outside the U.S. It will also vary depending on if your relative is an immediate relative or is under the family preference category.

If Your Relative is Inside the United States

The main preferred route toward a green card is through these two major steps:

  1. You, the U.S. citizen sponsor, must file an I-130 form with the USCIS. The date that this is done is called the priority date. If your family member is an immediate relative, then you will immediately have access to a visa number and can move on to step two. If not, then your family member will have to wait until their priority matches the current dates given monthly by the USCIS.
  2. When the priority date becomes current, your family member can file the I-485 form to adjust his or her status and become a lawful permanent resident.

If Your Relative is Outside the United States

While it is usually preferred to have your family member enter the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa before having their status transferred, it is not always possible or cost-effective.

If your family member is still outside the U.S., then you can go to a U.S. Consulate to obtain a green card through the Department of State. This can only be done once you, the U.S. citizen, have gotten an approved I-130.

However, this process can take more time than if your relative were inside the U.S. This is because the Department of State will carefully scrutinize your information and circumstances and require more extensive documentation.

What is the Family-Based Green Card Processing Time?

For immediate relatives, the processing time is relatively short. The I-130 petition goes through several stages as it is being processed.

  1. Once your petition is received, the USCIS will make sure that it is complete. If it finds that something is missing from your petition, the USCIS will either return your petition or send you a request for the missing information. When everything is in place, you will receive a notice of receipt that has a very important case number on it. This number will allow you to check the status of your petition.
  2. If the USCIS office that received your I-130 has a long backlog, then it may take several months to have your petition processed. If not, then the review section may only take a few weeks.
  3. Once the I-130 is approved, immediate relatives will immediately be given a visa number and your relative can apply for their green card or an adjustment of status.

However, for those that are not immediate relatives, the family-based green card is usually much longer. The Department of State releases a monthly bulletin to inform petitioners which priority dates can apply for immigrant visas.

Depending on your relative’s country of citizenship and your priority date, the DOS backlog could mean between one and twenty years of waiting. For example, for a Mexican citizen applying for an F3 visa,  he or she would have to wait over 23 years before a visa number became available.

As always, it is a good idea to work with your immigration attorney to learn exactly when your relative will have a visa number available.

Can I Use Premium Processing?

Unfortunately, premium processing is only available for the I-129 and I-140 forms for employment-based visas. Regardless, if your wait time is many years, premium processing would not expedite the green card. This is because premium processing only expedites the petition, not the availability of the visa number.

How Much Does It Cost?

The filing fees for a family-based green card are as follows:

To get a better grasp of what the entire family-based green card process will cost, be sure to consult with your immigration lawyer.

How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help

The specialized lawyers at SGM Law Group have years of extensive experience helping people acquire family-based green cards. Through our optimized application process, our attorneys can help make sure that your family-based green card processing time is as short as possible and that your chances of approval are maximized.

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