Green Card Holder Spouse Visa Processing Time Guide

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Yes, green card holders can sponsor their spouses to obtain a visa and join them in the U.S.
  • The processing time for a spouse green card application can range from 24 to 32 months or longer.
  • Green card holders must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and demonstrate the validity of their marriage and their financial eligibility.
  • There is a cap on the number of family second preference visas available each year, resulting in a long waitlist.

It’s common for green card holders in the U.S. to seek a green card for their spouse as well, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows this under the family second preference category (2A).

Unfortunately, your spouse can’t join you in the U.S. as soon as you submit a petition for a Category 2A visa. You first have to go through a lengthy application process.

This article discusses if a green card holder can file for their spouse, the green card holder spouse visa processing time, and how the application process works.

Can a Green Card Holder Get a Visa for a Spouse?

Yes, green card holders can petition for their spouses to join them in the U.S. on a visa. Spouses of lawful permanent residents are eligible for a family second preference category (2A) visa. However, there is a long waitlist for category 2A green cards, and you can get a visa for your spouse much quicker if you are a U.S. citizen.

How Long Does it Take for a Green Card Holder to Sponsor a Spouse?

Different kinds of Green Card applications have different processing times. Presently, spouse Green Card processing time currently averages around 24-32 months or more, depending on your circumstances.

Green Card Holder Spouse Green Card Processing Time Breakdown

Below, we offer a closer look at how the processing time for a spouse Green Card breaks down:

  • Complete Form I-130 (13-19 months)
  • Wait for Second Preference Green Card to become available (up to 24 months or more)

Spouse Green Card Eligibility Requirements

For your spouse to be eligible for a family second preference visa, first you must provide the USCIS with proof that your marriage is legally valid and legitimate. You also must demonstrate that your spouse is not “inadmissible” to the U.S. There are numerous grounds for inadmissibility; the most common are related to past crimes committed by you or your spouse, or if your household cannot earn enough income to be self-sufficient.

The Cap on the Family Second Preference Category

There are only about 114,200 family second preference category green cards issued each year, and this category includes unmarried children of green card holders as well. There are far more petitions submitted than visas granted, so there is a long waitlist for these visas. When you submit a petition for your spouse you will be given a “priority date.” Your spouse must wait until this date to obtain a visa to enter the U.S.

What If Your Spouse Is Already in the U.S. Illegally?

Your spouse is not permitted to enter the country until their priority date and they have received their visa. If your spouse is in the U.S. illegally and the USCIS becomes aware of this, then your spouse will be considered inadmissible for a family second preference visa. 180 days of illegal presence will result in inadmissibility for 3 years; over one year of illegal presence results in ten-years of inadmissibility. This inadmissibility will be placed on your spouse when their visa is submitted.

Spouse Green Card Required Documents

The first form you, the green card holder, must submit is a USCIS Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Along with the petition, you must provide documentary evidence of the legitimacy of your marriage and your permanent resident status in the U.S. Once Form I-130 is approved by the USCIS and your priority date has arrived, the National Visa Center and the U.S. embassy of your home country will send additional forms and instructions to complete the process.

Finally, your spouse will have to complete an interview at the U.S. embassy. At this interview, all the documents you’ve submitted will be reviewed, and you will have to answer questions about your application. A decision will then be made, and, if approved, your spouse will become a legal U.S. resident upon entering the country.

7 Scenarios for Green Card Holder Spouse Visa

So how long should you expect your application process to take? And what are the exact steps you must take to be successful? The answer can vary greatly, and each petitioner’s circumstances are different. The following section breaks down 7 of the most common scenarios for obtaining a spouse visa.

Scenario 1: You are a U.S. citizen in the U.S. and you are engaged to a non-American spouse living abroad

Your spouse can get a fiance visa within ten months, typically, but obtaining a green card can take more than two years. Fill out Form I-129F (Petition for Alien Fiance) and send it, along with other necessary documents, to the USCIS. Once the petition is approved, you complete an online visa application form and attend an interview at the consulate.

Scenario #2: You are a U.S. citizen in the U.S. and you are married to a non-American spouse living abroad

A Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative usually takes 6-11 months to process, and an additional 4-10 months to actually obtain the visa. You, the U.S. citizen, submit a Form I-130 to the USCIS, and once it gets approved you submit another online visa application with additional documents. If your application and documents are in order, your spouse will complete an interview at the U.S. embassy and get a visa.

Scenario #3: You are a U.S. citizen living in a foreign nation and are married to/living with a non-American

The processing time for this scenario is similar to scenario #1, but possibly slightly shorter. If your local consulate has a USCIS office, then you can complete the entire application process right there from the consulate. However, relatively few consulates have a USCIS office.

Scenario #4: You are a green card holder in the U.S. and you are married to a non-American spouse living in a foreign nation

If you are in this scenario, expect a wait time of over two years until your Form I-130 visa petition is approved, and then another 4-10 months until you actually obtain the immigrant visa. After submitting your Form I-130, your petition will be put on a waitlist (currently 2 years long) and you will have to wait until your priority date. Once your priority date is reached, you can submit an online application form with supporting documents. At this point, if your petition is approved, you will be put on another waitlist for the immigrant visa, and eventually, your spouse will get an interview at the local consulate.

Scenario #5: You are a green card holder in the U.S. and your spouse is a non-American living with you in the U.S.

Getting the Form I-130 petition approved will take 7-14 months, and then you will be put on a waitlist (currently 2 years long) to get the immigrant visa. Your spouse may have to return to your home country for this wait since you cannot file a petition for your spouse if they are living in the country illegally.

Scenario #6: You are a U.S. citizen living in the U.S. and your non-American spouse is living with you in the U.S. after legally entering the country

Processing time for an application like this is usually 7-14 months, if not longer. You must submit both Form I-130 and Form I-1485, Petition to Adjust Status, to adjust the visa status of your spouse. Once the application is submitted, your spouse will be a legal U.S. resident. To get the green card, your spouse only has to complete a biometrics appointment and interview at the consulate.

Scenario #7: You are a U.S. citizen in the U.S. and your spouse is living with you in the U.S. after illegally entering the country

Expect a 6-14 month wait time for your Form I-130 to be approved, and individual circumstances may extend this wait. You may have to get an immigration lawyer in this scenario since your spouse will likely be deemed inadmissible and denied a green card if they don’t leave the country before applying.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Current Processing Time for a Spouse Visa for Green Card Holders?

The processing time for a spouse visa (Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative) for spouses of Green Card holders (permanent residents) varies. It generally ranges from 12 to 36 months, depending on the service center and any specific circumstances of the case.

Why Does the Processing Time Vary for Spouse Visas?

Processing times vary due to factors such as the volume of applications received, the specific service center processing the application, the completeness of the application, and any required additional background checks or administrative processing.

What are the Steps in the Spouse Visa Process for Green Card Holders?

  1. Filing Form I-130: The Green Card holder files a petition for their spouse.
  2. Visa Number Availability: Wait for a visa number to become available as Green Card holders’ spouses fall under the family preference category, which has annual caps.
  3. Application for Immigrant Visa: Once a visa number is available, the spouse can apply for an immigrant visa.
  4. Interview and Approval: Attend an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy, after which the visa may be approved.

Can the Process Be Expedited?

In rare circumstances, expedited processing may be available if there are urgent humanitarian reasons, U.S. government interests, or significant financial losses. Standard expedite criteria apply, and it’s at the discretion of USCIS.

What Can Delay the Processing of a Spouse Visa?

Delays can occur due to incomplete applications, missing documents, the need for additional evidence, extended background checks, or high workload at service centers.

Is There a Way to Track the Status of the Spouse Visa Application?

Yes, you can track the status of the spouse visa application online on the USCIS website using the receipt number provided after filing Form I-130.

What Happens After the Spouse Visa is Approved?

After approval, the spouse can complete the process for an immigrant visa, including medical examination, attending a visa interview, and, upon successful completion, entry into the U.S. to obtain permanent resident status.

Can the Green Card Holder’s Spouse Work in the U.S. During the Process?

The spouse cannot work in the U.S. while waiting abroad for the visa process to complete. If already in the U.S. under a different status that allows work, they may continue to do so.

What if My Green Card Expires During the Application Process?

If the Green Card holder’s status expires during the process, it’s crucial to renew the Green Card. Maintaining lawful permanent resident status is important for the petition to remain valid.

How Can I Ensure a Smooth Spouse Visa Process?

To ensure a smooth process, submit a complete and accurate application, respond promptly to any requests for additional information, and prepare thoroughly for the interview.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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