There is no good single answer to this question. In some instances it can be a matter of months and in other cases it can be 10 or 15 years before an immigration visa is granted. It’s not satisfying to hear but the truth is… it all depends.
The immigration laws of the United States are extremely complex and not always consistent. How long your visa takes will depend largely on where you are in the world, if you are related to a US citizen or a Legal Permanent Resident or if you are currently in the country on a nonimmigrant visa and want to apply for an adjustment in status.
Each of these categories have their own rules and schedules and they can vary in the extreme. Let’s take a quick look at how they work in terms of priority processing.
Family based visas
One of the driving forces behind US immigration policy is that families should not be separated simply because of immigration issues. A US citizen can file a petition for an alien relative and there is, for immediate family, no limit on the number of visas that can be issued. These family based visas have priority in processing over all other types of visas.
That said, within the family based visas there are two sub categories, and within those categories there are additional categories each with their own priority and quotas.
Immediate Relative (IR)
There is no annual limit on the IR class of visas but there is a pecking order when it comes to processing the visas. For example the highest priority goes to minor children and spouses followed by orphans adopted abroad or to be adopted in the US and followed by parents. Only US citizens can petition for an IR visa.
Family Preference Visas
These visas are for more distant relatives and come with annual quotas meaning that they can take significantly longer than the IR visa. Categories include:
- F1 visas. Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. These visas are limited to 23,400 per year.
- F2 visas. This is the category that covers petitions from Legal Permanent Residents (green card holders) and the class is limited to 114,200 visas per year. Of that total quota, at least 77% will go to spouses and minor children. The balance of the visas will be allocated to the only other group than a LPR can petition for and that’s unmarried sons and daughters over 21.
- F3 visas. This class covers married children (and their children if any) and is limited to 23,400 visas per year.
- F4 visas. Last in line are brothers and sisters of US citizens, their spouses and children if any. 65,000 visas are set aside for this class each year.
The IR classes of visas have the highest priority when it comes to processing which means every other class of immigrant visa will have a lower priority and are also subject to annual quotas. Having said that, visa classifications other than the IR class may in fact be processed faster than the IR application.
For example K-1 visas for fiancés may be granted faster than an application for the parents of a US citizen. It all depends on the demand for the type visa, the availability of a visa number or the amount of additional processing required because of issues brought up in the application. These factors hold true for all types of immigrant visa applications.
While there is no real way to determine demand, or to know that there are issues with the application, there is a way to determine when a visa number will be available for those visas that have quotas. The State Department publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin which will show the next available date for a type of visa by country. The bulletin is available on their website.
Waiting for an immigrant visa can be a frustrating experience particularly for those people who are subject to a quota. Unfortunately, the demand for visas has not declined and the quotas have not been adjusted in over 20 years. Couple these facts with the much more stringent security background check since 9/11 and you have a recipe for a long wait.
Eugene Jones is a principal in www.ImmiGreatNow.com.com which provides web solutions for family Immigration. Eugene is also a principal in www.connect4business.com a lotus domino manufacturing solution and www.nauvou.com.com web based solutions for customer support.