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How Long Does it Take for an Immigrant to Legally Come to the United States?

There are many ways to immigrate into the US, and each way of immigration has a different timeline. If you are the immediate relative of a US citizen, for example, you may be able to secure a green card relatively quickly. This is because there are no limits on the number of immediate relatives who can receive green cards. If you are the spouse of a US citizen, a minor (under the age of 21) child of a US citizen, or the parent of a US citizen (who is over 21 years of age) you are considered an immediate relative. Generally, if you fit into one of these categories, you can immigrate once the paperwork is completed. It will still require a waiting time, however, to get the paperwork completed. For example, the visa petition can take up to 8 months to be reviewed by the USCIS and being sent the paper work can take another one to three months. Scheduling an interview can take two to four months. If the applicant is already in the US, the whole process can take up to one year, and this timeline may be longer for people applying from outside the US.

If you are related to a US citizen but are not an immediate relative, you can still apply for a green card through family sponsorship known as family preference. However, since only 350 000 people are allowed to secure a US visa through this type of sponsorship each year, there are backlogs and the process takes longer than it does for immediate family. If you are the child (over 21 years of age) of a US citizen, you are in the first preference. The wait for a US visa in this category can be six years. If you are the child or spouse of a green card holder, you are in the second preference. The wait for a US visa in this category can be five to ten years. If you are the married child of a US citizen, you are in third preference. The wait for a US visa in this category can be eight years. If you are the sibling of a US citizen, you are in fourth preference. Several things can affect waiting times of family-sponsored green card applications. For example, the US limits the number of family sponsored visas granted by country. Therefore, if you come from a country where not too many people are applying for a US visa through family sponsorship, you may not need to wait as long as someone applying from China, Mexico, the Philippines, or India, where applicant rates are traditionally very high.

Even if you do not have family in the US, you can still apply for a green card through employer sponsorship. If you are a recognized researcher or professor, a multinational executive or manager, or someone with extraordinary ability, you are generally in the first preference of employer sponsored immigration. If you have a PhD or Master’s degree and have exceptional skills in business, the arts, or sciences, you may qualify for a green card under the second preference. If you are a skilled worker or professional, you may qualify for immigration under third preference. This category also covers workers who require less than two years of experience, training, or education. Other workers may have to wait five years or even more to get their green card. Religious workers and other specialized workers belong in the fourth preference of immigration while investors are in the fifth preference. Employment based immigration petitions have a zero to three year backlog in most categories and in most cases the government processing time for each category is an average of one and a half to three years.

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