The time for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process Form I-130, which is the first step in helping relatives to immigrate to the United States, depends on several factors– the applicant’s relationship to the named relative, the USCIS caseload as well as the integrity of the application. By understanding these factors in terms of the overall process, immigrant families can plan their timetables for reunification.
Applicants allowed to file Form I-130 include both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs)– green card holders. However, USCIS prioritizes applications from both native and naturalized U.S citizens. In addition, citizens can help extended family members immigrate to the United States whereas green card holders can name only immediate family members– a spouse and any unmarried children– as application beneficiaries.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens fare best in terms of expedited agency processing. These qualifying individuals aren’t subject to visa availability wait times as are the immediate relatives of green card holders.
“The law gives special consideration to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens,” according to USCIS information.
With the special consideration, the U.S. Department of State invites immediate relatives to apply for an immigrant visa with Form I-130 approval. In cases where immediate family members of U.S. citizens legally entered the United States, relatives are allowed to file paperwork requesting an adjustment of status.
For those who aren’t considered immediate relatives of U.S. citizens– and for all relatives of green card holders– “the combination of high demand and the limits set by law on how many people can immigrate each year means your relative may have to wait several years in line while petitions that were filed before theirs are processed.”
USCIS processes these applications by assigning each one a visa preference category. “Each year, a limited number of immigrant visas are available for each preference category,” according to USCIS guidance. “The visas are processed in the order in which the petitions are properly filed and accepted by us.” Once the wait is over and “your relative reaches the front of the line, the U.S. Department of State will contact your relative and invites him or her to apply for an immigrant visa.”
USCIS reminds applicants that petitions must be fully complete and signed and also include a full paid filing fee.
Current wait times for the various visa categories are available at the State Department Web site under the category “Visa Bulletins.”