How Long Does It Take to Immigrate to the U.S.?

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • Time to immigrate to the U.S. on a work visa varies (1 ½ to 3 years).
  • Marriage-based green card timelines range from 10-17 months (U.S. citizen) to 23-38 months (green card holder).
  • Factors include visa preference, demand, and beneficiary’s nationality.
  • Green card holders can live and work in the U.S., with an option for U.S. citizenship.

Immigrating to the U.S. is a dream that many people have. But in order to be able to start this new chapter of your life, you must know what the process involves and what requirements you have to meet to move to the US.

Immigration is a complex process, and it will take a while until you’ll be settled into your new home. So, how long does it take to immigrate to the U.S.? Read this article and you’ll find out.

How Long Does It Take to Immigrate to the U.S. on a Work Visa?

A lot of foreign people want to work in the U.S. In 2019, these persons made up 17% of the civilian labor force. The number of immigrants who joined the labor force has grown significantly over the last few decades – it has increased more than 3 times since 1970.

Every year, there are about 140,000 individuals who immigrate under the five employment preferences. The five preferences are:

  • 1st Preference Priority Workers – These workers are given 28.6% of the employment-based preference of the world. Moreover, they are offered the numbers that aren’t allocated to the 5th and 4th preferences.
  • 2nd Preference Persons of Exceptional Ability or Members of the Professions with Advanced Degrees – In the employment-based preference of the world, this category is given 28.6%. Numbers not allocated to the 1st preference are also allocated to this category.
  • 3rd Preference Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers – They receive 28.6% of the worldwide level, as well as the numbers that are not given to the 2nd and 1st categories.
  • 4th Preference Certain Special Immigrant – From the worldwide level, these visas get 7.1%.
  • 5th Preference Employment Creation – The 5th preference visas get 7.1% from the worldwide level.

There is no backlog per country for a visa petition/adjustment of status process/labor certification. However, the work visa processing time may take about 1 ½ to 3 years.

How Long Does It Take to Immigrate to the U.S. on a Marriage Green Card?

Over the years, many foreign nationals married American citizens. In fact, since 1998, over 2.3 million people got a green card by marrying an American citizen.

The amount of time it takes to obtain a marriage-based green card will depend. Several things affect the duration of the process. For instance, the immigration status and the residence of the parties involved will be important in determining how quickly the visa can be obtained.

The U.S. citizen will be the one who has to start the process. He/she will file Form I-129F and will also gather the right supporting documentation. Then, the USCIS will start processing the petition.

If the petition is approved, the immigrant will go online to complete a visa application. Next, an interview at a U.S. embassy will be scheduled. Once the visa gets its approval, the two people should marry within 90 days, after which the immigrant should apply for the new visa.

To do things right for the green card, another interview has to be scheduled. This is necessary as it can help the authorities determine whether the marriage is genuine or not.

In case of any problems during the application process like criminal convictions, medical issues, and overstaying a previous visa’s limit, the process can be slowed down. In worse situations, it may even lead to declining the immigration application.

Not a lot of things can be done to make the process faster. You can only make sure that the necessary documents are sent as soon as possible, and that the interview at the U.S. embassy takes place sooner.

On average, people who applied for a marriage-based visa should receive it within 10-17 months if married to a U.S. citizen. Meanwhile, if married to a green card holder, the applicant will have to wait within 23 to 38 months to obtain it. The Visa bulletin can be checked for the latest information regarding the current wait times.

What Factors Affect Your Ability to Immigrate to the U.S.?

The cap on the number of people who can immigrate to the U.S. every year, as well as how soon the documents are sent and how soon the embassy interview takes place are all factors that influence how fast someone is going to immigrate to the U.S.

But these are not the only things that affect someone’s ability to immigrate to the U.S. Other factors may also come into play:

The Allocations Between Visa Preferences

Not every preference category has the same number allocated under the law. What’s more, not every preference category has the same demand. For instance, the 4th preference category has 65,000 visas available per year. Meanwhile, the 1st preference category gets 23,400 visas allocated annually.

As there are millions of people waiting to obtain visas, the allotment is often not enough. For instance, since over a million people are waiting in the Fourth Preference, the 65,000 visas are not enough for everyone. Delays occur as a result.

Preference Category Fall Down

According to the law, all allotted numbers should be used every year. But in special circumstances, certain categories may not use all numbers.

If this is the case, the remaining numbers will go to lower preference categories.

For instance, if the 1st preference allocated numbers are not used up in a particular year, the numbers will be given to the family 2nd Preference. This way, they will end up being used by permanent residents’ spouses, daughters, and sons.

Then, the numbers that remained unused from the first three family preferences can go to the sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens. Sadly, there are no unused numbers usually going to the 4th Preference.

The Beneficiary’s Country of Nationality

Every year, there is a per-country limit, as established by the Congress. Four countries are always reaching their annual limit at the moment, respectively India, Mexico, China, and the Philippines.

Therefore, people who are from these countries and wish to immigrate to the U.S. have to wait longer to immigrate compared to individuals from other countries who apply under the same preference category.

What Happens Afterward?

Once you are approved and finally obtain a green card, you are free to live in the United States and work wherever you wish. What makes this better is that you are also on your way to eventually obtaining U.S citizenship if things go well.

The green card will be sent to your U.S. address. You may have to wait up to 3 months for it. Nevertheless, you can stay in the U.S. and work while waiting for a green card.

In some special situations – if you get a marriage-based green card yet you’ve not been married for more than 2 years, you can get a conditional green card. Basically, in order to apply for an unconditional green card, you will have to meet specific requirements and also file an I-751 form.

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Final Thoughts

The green card processing time will depend on several factors, like the country you were born in, whether you send all the documents on time and whether you book the U.S. embassy interview soon enough.

Make sure you do everything right from the get-go and check the visa bulletin to know when you’ll be able to receive your green card.

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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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