Marriage green cards can be issued to immigrants who are living in the United States and already married to a U.S. citizen, or to a U.S. green card holder. But they can also be issued to non-citizens who are living abroad while their U.S. citizen spouse is residing in the United States and they are going through a consular processing route. Depending on the case, marriage green card application processes can vary in length. This guide is meant to clarify some of the questions surrounding processing time for different types of marriage green card applicants, and why the process might be expedited, or take longer than expected.
We’ll go through some of the different factors that affect USCIS decision making, namely how different forms have to be processed per each case:
Concurrent Filing: Living in the U.S. and Married to a U.S. Citizen
Immigrants who are already in the United States, living with their U.S. citizen spouse face the least wait time out of any of the marriage green card categories. This is because of the nature of the filing with the USCIS, in which the applicant, with the help of their spouse, can file both the I-130 Petition and the I-485 Adjustment at the same time—also known as concurrent filing. This method saves time from a review standpoint because the case officer is already aware of the U.S. citizen's status, and the fact that the couple is living together in the U.S.
In total, the average wait time, once USCIS forms have been filed and paid for, is 9-11 months, including the Biometrics appointment. After this initial wait time, applicants in this category should expect to wait an additional 1-2 months for the actual green card interview. It is not out of the ordinary to be granted a green card in the immediacy of your interview. A request for more evidence, however, can create additional wait times if it is requested by a reviewing officer. Overall, this total wait time is less than, or about one year from start to finish.
Married to a U.S. Citizen, But Living Abroad
When both spouses are not living together (meaning both are not based in the U.S.), this invariably adds to the USCIS processing time. One of the main reasons is because the I-130 needs to file before consular processing can begin. This is because only when an I-130 has been approved will the NVC issue a case number to the applicant who is living abroad, and to proceed with the rest of their application.
The I-130, while only a few months to process for those married to U.S. citizens, could take between 11-12 months to have approved when a spouse is living abroad. This means being issued a marriage green card (i.e. traveling to the U.S. with an approved visa) could take as long as 2 years via this route.
Living in the U.S. and Married to a U.S. Green Card Holder
So far we have noted that the average processing time for a marriage green card when both spouses reside in the U.S. is approximately one year. For consular processing, when a spouse is living abroad, the processing time can go on for even two years.
In the longest case, when a spouse is living in the United States and is married to a U.S. green card holder (not a citizen), the I-130 also has to be filed separately, which can take a year or longer to have approved. Then once the petition has been approved, the spouse will need to check the State Department Visa Bulletin, available here.
Because the spouse is filing as married to a U.S. green card holder, they will need to wait until a visa number is available to them via the F2A category per the annual cap on family-based immigration. While it is possible, depending on the country, that the visa will be “Current”, wait times could range from at least 3-6 months.
Overall, with a combined wait time of I-130 processing, visa availability, I-485 processing time, this marriage green card could take at least 30 months to be approved.
Living Abroad and Married to a U.S. Green Card Holder
In the case that a spouse is living abroad and is married to a U.S. green card holder, consular processing is actually faster than having to file an I-485 if one was living in the United States. For example, the I-130 could still take up to a year to be approved, then there is the issue of green card availability via the State Department annual limits, which could add several months. But foreign spouses in this category generally have faster processing when it comes to the NVC reviewing their documentation. In this case, the average wait time is between 2 and 2.5 years.