Family Green Card Processes
Plan your application, from I-130 to Interview
The Green Card process determines:
- Which Forms you need to file, and the order in which you need to file them;
- Who will review your forms;
- Which immigration rules apply to you.
Additionally your Green Card process, along with your Immigration Category (and sometimes your country of birth) determines how long each step will take. By adding all the steps, the length of the Green Card process, from start to finish, can be estimated.
Our Dynamic Planner applies the latest Processing Times to your Green Card process and circumstances to predict when each step will take place.
Getting started planning your application
Checking the family relationship.
You checked the family relationship between applicants and sponsor not only to make sure that it is a ‘qualifying’ relationship, but also to know which supporting documents you are going to need to prove this family relationship (you need this evidence at the very beginning of the process to file Form I-130);
Immediate relative, or preference applicant.
You know whether you will start the Green Card process as an ‘immediate relative’, or under a ‘preference’ category (F1, F2A, F2B, F3, F4). This will have an impact not only on your timeline, but also on the immigration rules you are subjected to;
Adjustment, or consular.
You know whether you are going to go through adjustment of status, or consular processing:
- If you plan to go through adjustment, you made sure that you are (or will be) eligible to file the adjustment Form I-485. If you recently entered the United States, you paid attention to the ’90-day’ rule;
- If you plan to go through consular processing, you know whether your U.S. immigration history (overstays, …) or other events (arrests, …) might create issues. If you are currently living outside the United States with your U.S. spouse, you are aware of what ‘domicile’ is.
You also realize that applicants generally do not get to choose their process. In particular, U.S. Citizens are not supposed to get their parents (or spouse) to the United States and then file for adjustment once they are on American soil: such applicants need to go through consular processing.
There is a ‘filing strategy’ in place for the entire family, not just one family member:
- When applicants are immediate relatives, you understand that there is one I-130 (and one Green Card case throughout the process) for each family member (both parents are being sponsored, then two I-130s- one for each parent; a spouse and young child are being sponsored, then two I-130s- one for the spouse and one for the child; …);
- When applicants are under a ‘preference’ classification, you understand that they can have ‘derivative applicants’. When these derivative applicants are children of the principal applicants, you have a sense as to whether you are going to need the help of the CSPA to maintain their eligibility.
Whenever possible, you try to mitigate risks through your filing strategy. This generally involves filing multiple petitions instead of just one. For instance, you might want to file for your parents, and plan to have them file for your younger brother under F2A when they get their Green Card. But you might also want to file for your brother under F4, as an ‘insurance’.
You have a sense of the timeline associated with your Green Card case, so that you have realistic expectations as to when you are likely to get your Green Card, and can plan your life accordingly.
Most applicants believe that their case should be expedited. But the reality is that getting a case expedited is hard, with very few life scenarios meeting the requirements of U.S. immigration rules. So simply do not count on one and consider spending no time and energy on making a case for expedite…
Travel while in process
Adjustment applicants cannot travel in and out of the United States before they get their ‘combo card’ (employment authorization and advance parole) approved. There is few exemptions to that rule, such as being present in the United States under an H1B, so applicants need to be careful. But once advance parole is approved, use it (unless you have grounds of inadmissibility that can be held against you) and stop looking on the internet for stories of applicants who were denied entry while being on advance parole.
Applicants going through the consular process understand that getting a temporary visa to travel to the United States is possible, even after Form I-130 has been filed. But they also recognize that they are going to have to show ties to their current home country.
Impact of life events
You are aware of the positive and negative things that life events can bring to your Green Card application. For instance, to maintain Green Card eligibility:
- Principal applicants who are immediate relative children and under F1 will change categories if they get married (IR-C to F1, and F1 to F3);
- F2Bs cannot get married, they first need the sponsor to naturalize to at least be transferred to F3;
- No derivative applicants can get married;
- Derivative applicants cannot have a CSPA age that is 21 years old or older;
Other examples, you know ahead of time whether the LPR sponsor becoming a U.S. Citizen is a good idea or not:
- A Green Card holder sponsoring their spouse and child would not want to naturalize if they filed only one I-130 on behalf of their spouse (the child would no longer be allowed to be a derivative applicant);
- F2B applicants need to either accept a transfer to F1, or ‘opt-out’;
Affidavit of Support strategy
You either have an affidavit of support strategy, or you have an idea of what it could be:
The affidavit of support is a math exercise: either the family sponsor is meeting the minimum income requirements based on their ‘household size’ or not;
- If the family sponsor does not earn enough, there needs to be something else (generally a joint-sponsor that U.S. immigration agencies believe is likely to live up to this commitment);
- In any instance, you made sure that the family sponsor (and the joint-sponsor if there is one) filed their U.S. taxes the last 3 years (or did not have to file because they were not earning enough income).
Strengthen and update your case
You understand that your Green Card application is a ‘living organism’: its strength can grow over time, and it will most likely need updates (because of the length of the process). For instance:
- You are a young couple at the I-130 stage? Stop worrying about lack of joint-accounts and such. Make your best case, but keep gathering new, stronger evidence over time (as most couples are generally able to);
- Tax filings of the family sponsor, or the joint-sponsor? They will probably have to be updated with the latest for the interview;
- Police certificates? They are valid for 2 years, so you might need updated ones, at least for your country of current residence;
- Medical Exams? Do them as late as possible in the process so that you do not have to do them twice;
Consular Processing & Adjustment (without concurrent filing)
Consular Processing for Immediate relatives & F2As: detailed steps
Note that, because F2As are ‘current’ in the Visa Bulletin, their process is essentially similar to the one that applies to immediate relatives: they are not subject to annual numerical limits.
How long will it take for my I-130 to be approved?
I-130 approval for family applicants who are going to go through consular processing ranges from a few months for immediate relatives and F2A applicants, to many years for those under F1, F2B, F3, F4 (with even longer wait for any such applicant born in Mexico or the Philippines).
In other words, the classification and category of the applicant essentially determines how long it will take for the I-130 to be approved, not other factors such as the applicant's service center.
Your I-130 service center does not matter as much as you think
Immigration Planner's I-130 Performance Index shows that the California, Potomac, Texas, and Vermont service centers have very similar performance in 2022. Only Nebraska stands out:
This trend is recent. As early as the first quarter of 2020, USCIS was sending virtually all of its 'preference' I-130s to California. But that is no longer the case and the situation in 2022 could not be more different:
In other words USCIS has completely re-balanced its workload. Family I-130s are in 2022 evenly processed across all 5 service centers, and that has evened out performance:
The I-130 'processing times' published by USCIS don't mean what you think
For decades, USCIS has been very successful at hiding how long it takes for I-130 to be approved. A key pillar of this strategy of obfuscation are the I-130 'processing times' published by USCIS. Applicants and sponsors think that these numbers give them an indication of how long it takes USCIS to process their application when, in fact, these numbers simply measure how long it took to build the current backlog of pending I-130s.
In other words, USCIS has been knowingly posting numbers that it knows are misleading and, at the same time, resisting multiple calls to improve its approach. Most notably, USCIS has still not implemented in 2022 for I-130s the improved methodology it is currently using for I-485s.
You are surprised and want proof? Let's see what he Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman), which serves as a liaison between the public and USCIS says in its annual report.
I-130 Processing Times matter to all applicants going through Consular Processing, as well as applicants going through Adjustment of Status without Concurrent filing. In other words, unless you are filing Form I-485 and Form I-130 concurrently, you are going to be interested by I-130 Processing Times. Note the following:
- I-130 Processing Times are at this point more of an indication of USCIS' backlog than the actual time it takes to approve a form I-130. So using appropriately these processing times takes expertise.
- I-130 processing times vary primarily depending on the immigration category of the applicant. Essentially, USCIS will take more time to approve Form I-130 when it knows that the applicant will have to wait anyway because of Annual Numerical Limits and the associated Visa Bulletin wait.
Immediate Relatives though are treated the same way and there is no distinction made between parents, spouses, and children of U.S. Citizens as far as processing times are concerned.
- I-130 Processing Times may vary depending on which Service Centers process the I-130. This is actually more true for Immediate Relatives than it is for applicants under a family-preference. Most applicants under a family-preference see their I-130 processed by the California Service Center while Immediate Relatives see their I-130s see their I-130 processed by 3 service centers.
The National Visa Center (NVC) is a unit of the U.S. State Department which essentially makes sure that applicants Green Card Case is 'interview-ready', so that the Interview with a Consular Officer can take place. Note the following:
- Case Creation represents the time it takes for the NVC to create an NVC Case Number once they have received an approved I-130 from USCIS.
- Case Review represents the time it takes for the NVC to review a complete filing in the CEAC and determine whether it is 'Case Complete' (once the DS-260, Affidavit of Support, and all documents have been submitted).
- EMail Response represents the time it takes for the NVC to respond to 'AskNVC' emails.
|Case Creation||13 days|
|Case Review||78 days||Feb 13, 2022|
|EMail Response||52 days||Mar 11, 2022|
|Last Updated||May 2, 2022|
Adjustment of Status
Form I-485 Adjudication
I-485 Processing Times are the one and only driver of the Interview for applicants going through Adjustment of Status. Note the following:
- I-485 Processing Times are computed differently than I-130 or I-765 Processing Times. They actually reflect the age of the cases that were recently adjudicated by USCIS. They are therefore not an indication of a backlog, but a more accurate indication of how long it takes USCIS to make a decision on 50% of the cases of the cases that were submitted to them, and 93% of the cases
- I-485 Processing Times are the addition of two Processing Times:
- the time it takes the NBC to make sure that the I-485 of the applicant is interview-ready;
- once the case of the applicant is deemed 'interview-ready', the time it takes for the USCIS Field Office to schedule the interview. The higher the number of waiting applicants, the longer it takes
- The following tables represents current processing times for the 10 busiest USCIS Field Offices.
As of now, the 'average' across all USCIS Field Offices look something like:
- 50% Scenario? 50% of the I-485 Interview take place within 11 and 12 months of their filing.
- 93% Scenario? 25 to 26 months.
Form I-485 Processing Times at selected USCIS Field Offices (in Months)
|Atlanta GA||15 / 42||Low: 14.5 / 22. High: 23.5 / 52.5|
|Baltimore MD||11.5 / 27.5||Low: 12 / 19. High: 17 / 42.5|
|Brooklyn NY||16 / 41||Low: 18 / 19.5. High: 36 / 46|
|Chicago IL||9.5 / 23||Low: 8.5 / 14. High: 16.5 / 29.5|
|Dallas TX||11.5 / 22||Low: 12 / 16. High: 18.5 / 29.5|
|Houston TX||16 / 25.5||Low: 15.5 / 18. High: 21.5 / 29.5|
|New York City NY||10 / 34||Low: 10.5 / 14.5. High: 33.5 / 41|
|Newark NJ||13 / 27.5||Low: 12.5 / 16.5. High: 22 / 32.5|
|Philadelphia PA||9 / 23.5||Low: 10.5 / 14.5. High: 20 / 35|
|Queens NY||12.5 / 38||Low: 13 / 20.5. High: 34 / 46.5|
Adjustment of Status
Form I-765 (and I-131) Approval
The National Benefit Center (NBC) is a unit of USCIS that makes sure that the Green Card Cases of applicants are 'interview-ready', so that an Interview with an 'Adjudicating Officer' at a USCIS Field Office can take place. While doing that, the NBC is also in charge of delivering the Employment Authorization Card (through Form I-765 approval), and Advance Parole (through Form I-131 approval).
Visa Bulletin Predictions
Immigration Planner uses technology and proprietary mathematical models to inspect years of data and predict the ‘Final Action Date’ for applicants under a family-based preference (F1, F2A, F2B, F3, F4).Learn more
Common Adjustment Processes
For eligible Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens living in the United States.
For eligible applicants, usually under a family-based classification (mostly F1 and F2A, and more rarely F2B, F3, F4).
Common Consular Processes
Consular Processing with Visa Bulletin Wait
For applicants living abroad (outside the United States) who are under a family-based classification (F1, F2A, F2B, F3, F4).
Consular Processing, no Wait
For Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens who are living outside the United States.