Waiting for a Green Card: How Long It Can Take and What You Can Do

Posted by Frank Gogol

The American Dream lures people from all over the world. There is a long list of people from different countries and backgrounds standing in line to get the opportunity to live and work in America – especially on a permanent basis. The result? Getting in is tough and getting in permanently on a Green Card is even more difficult.

How can you get a Green Card? How long does it take and is there any way to make the waiting for Green Card approval any shorter? Below we take a look at the answer to some of the questions you may have while you are waiting for your Green Card.

What is a Green Card?

Firstly, a Green Card is not the same as a visa. Yes a visa can also give you the right to live and work in the U.S., but there are many different types of visas. Each visa has its own rules that you need to abide by and each has different regulations and limitations. Most visas are also temporary. They have an expiry date and a limit on the number of years for which it can be valid until you have to leave the country.

A Green Card, on the other hand, is better than a visa in most respects for someone who wants to live in a country. Firstly, it grants you the right to live and work in the U.S. on a more permanent basis. If you own a Green Card, you don’t have to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before you are allowed to work in the U.S. for example. A Green Card in itself gives you this right.

Most Green Cards also don’t come with as many rules and limitations as visas. There are some Green Cards that will at first have a conditional period. But, after you have completed this period you can apply to have your conditional Green Card status removed and you will have normal permanent residency status in the U.S. Take note that even though a Green Cards gives you permanent residency, most Green Cards need to be renewed at regular intervals to avoid losing your right to live and work here.

Are There Limits on the Numbers of Green Cards Given?

Every year there is a large influx of people who want to immigrate to America. Thousands of people are waiting for Green Card approval. The U.S. has strict immigration laws to help govern and regulate the number of people that are allowed to settle in the U.S. per year. Because of this there are some limits on the amount of Green Cards that can be issued per year.

There are different categories for which Green cards are issued. Only some of these categories have a limit on the number of Green Cards issued for them. Others don’t. Let’s take a look at the different Green Card categories.

What Are the Categories?

As mentioned before, different categories of Green Cards have different limits on the total amount of Green Cards allowed to be issued per year. Let’s have a look at the different categories of Green Cards available.

Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens

U.S. citizens have the right to live, work, and vote in America. The Declaration of Independence was specifically drawn up for them and they are protected by the American constitution. American citizens are, therefore, also able to file a petition under which (if successful) their immediate relatives are granted Green Cards in order to immigrate to America. An immediate relative is a spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21, or a parent if the petitioner is older than 21 years. There is no limit to the number of Green Cards allowed to be issued for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The U.S. often extends a helping hand to people who are in dire need of rescue or asylum. These people first need to be classified as refugees or asylees before they will be eligible for such a Green Card.

There is currently no limit on the number of Green Cards available for this category. But, there are limits on the number of people allowed to enter the U.S. based on a refugee or asylee status. About 70,000 to 90,000 people classified in this category are allowed to enter the U.S. per year.

Employment-Based Categories

Some people are eligible for a Green Card on the basis of their employment. These people will, therefore, be eligible in the employment-based category. Their expertise makes them valuable to the U.S. and helps them to gain a Green Card. Only 140,000 Green Cards are allowed to be issued in this category per year. There are also 480,000 Green Cards available per year to be issued to the family members of people in this category.

Green Card Lottery

There is a yearly Green Card lottery for people from eligible countries and ethnic groups. The aim of the Green Card lottery is to keep America diverse. The Green Card lottery has a limit of 50,000 Green Cards that can be issued per year.

You can apply online every year. This is encouraged as it might take a few years before you hit the jackpot. Even though you can get a Green Card in the Green Card lottery without specific eligibility criteria, there are still limits on the percentage of Green Cards allowed to be issued per year to the specific ethnic groups of the world.

Can the wait for a Green Card Be Shortened?

There are many categories for Green Cards in the U.S. and, as we explained above, some of them have yearly limits. So generally you can expect a relatively long waiting period before you are granted a Green Card.

There are usually more people applying for Green Cards in different categories than there are available per year so if you aren’t successful one year you might have to wait for the next.

The only way you’ll be able to shorten the period you are waiting for Green Card approval is to somehow become eligible by being the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. As we explained above, there are no limits on Green Cards for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. This does not, however, mean that you should be fraudulent in your attempt to get a Green Card.

The USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) is aware of the fact that many people marry American citizens in order to get Green Cards. This is one of the reasons why there is a conditional status on the Green Cards these people get. If you want to get a Green Card based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen you will be tested to see if your marriage is “bona fide” (aka real or genuine).

What to Do While Your Green Card is Processing

There isn’t much you can do about the way the USCIS goes about their business. They decide who gets a Green Card and who needs to wait some more. But, you can keep your end of the bargain. Here are a few things you can do while you wait for Green Card approval.

Updating Your Address with USCIS

If you move whilst you wait for Green Card approval, you must inform them of your new address within 10 days of moving. If you don’t, you might miss an important message from them. They will mail notifications to your old address without knowing you have moved.

Checking Your Case Status

You can stay up to date with the progress of your case by checking the Case Status Online page. Enter your Form I-485 receipt number and look up your case status. You can also submit a case inquiry if you think it is taking abnormally long.

If You Need to Travel

If you are waiting for a Green Card from within the U.S. you need to ask for permission if you want to leave and re-enter. If you don’t the USCIS will accept your exit as the abandonment of your application for a Green Card. You don’t want that.

To get permission, you can file an application for a travel document by filing a Form I-131. The instructions on how to file this application as well as details of the various filing fees can be found here.

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The U.S. offers many wonderful opportunities to live a dream life. Thousands of people apply every year for permanent residency in the U.S. and these numbers are always more than the number of Green Cards allowed to be issued. This can mean that your wait for a Green Card can get long but don’t give up.

You can use the tips above to stay up to date whilst you are waiting for Green Card approval. Don’t let the delay discourage you. Stay persistent and your American dream could one day come true.

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