How long it takes to get a green card: all you need to know

Gabriela Peratello
05.05.21
7 minute read

Are you planning to apply for a Green Card? And perhaps you’re wondering how long does it take to become a permanent resident? Are you eligible? What do you need to know? Well, you’ve wandered into the right woods. In this article, we’ll help you answer all of these questions.

Firstly, you must understand that the Permanent Resident Card is not available to everyone. Eligible immigrants may fall under a few different categories, all of which have their own processing times that can range from a couple of months to a decade.

Green Card category¹Average waiting time
Marriage-based11-38 months
Employment-based6-12 months
Family-based6 months - 10 years

Note: USCIS also offers the Special Arrangement Green Card. You can check further information on how to apply and how long it will take directly on their website.

Getting your green card can be quite a costly but rewarding process. It can cost anywhere between 1,200 USD to 4,500 USD. Now, let’s examine each of them.

Pay for your green card even when you’re abroad

📑 Table of contents

How long does it take for you to get a Green Card through marriage?

Marriage is one of the shortest routes to getting a legal residency status in the US. And unlike other categories, there is no yearly cap on the number of marriage-based Green Cards issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)².

The preliminary marriage-based Green Card is called the CR-1 Visa. It stands for “Conditional Resident Visa”³. It’s a provisional Green Card that expires after two years. If the couple stays married for that time, the immigrant spouse can then seek permanent residency as an Immediate Relative⁴.

Now, let's clarify exactly how long it would take to get the CR-1 Visa.

How long does it take to get a Green Card through marriage to a US citizen?

If you are abroad and married to an American, you get to enjoy express eligibility to get a Green Card. As a fiancé of a US citizen, you can even get a special K-1 visa that allows you to get married on American soil⁴. Shortly after the marriage, you may then petition for a full-fledged marriage-based Green Card.

There are three steps to getting your Green Card in this category:

  1. Establishing the authenticity of the marriage relationship: this stage involves the execution and filing of Form I-130. Which takes between 6 to 11 months.
  2. Applying for the Green Card. Which takes anywhere between 3 to 5 months.
  3. The final interview and approval. This can take from 1 to 2 months.

Total estimated wait time: 11–17 months.

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If you already live on American soil, all you have to do is establish the legitimacy of the marriage with form I-130 while simultaneously applying for the Green Card at the same time with form I-435.

This entire process will take between 11 to 13 months.

If you stay married to and live with your American spouse for three years, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship too.

How long does it take to get a Green Card through marriage to a Permanent Resident?

In case you are abroad, as a spouse of a legal resident of the US, you are also entitled to permanent resident status. But obtaining a Green Card through this route takes a slightly different process and wait time.

  1. Establishing the legitimacy of the marriage with the Form I-130. This can take from 6 to 11 months.
  2. Waiting and checking the visa bulletin for Green Card availability for around 8 to 10 months
  3. Evaluating your eligibility for a Green Card through the National Visa Center application. Which can take from 3 to 5 months.
  4. Final interview and approval. This last step might take 1 or 2 months.

Total estimated wait time: 23–32 months.

If you currently live in the US the process is a little different:

  1. Establishing the marriage relationship by filing Form I-130. Can take anytime from 6 to 12 months.
  2. Waiting for Green Card availability in the visa bulletin. The wait for this can be from 8 to 10 months
  3. Applying for the Green Card with Form I-485. Which might take 9 to 11 months.
  4. Final interview and approval. This process can take from 1 to 2 months.

Total estimated time: 29–38 months.

Required documents for marriage-based Green Card

Before approving your application for a marriage-based Green Card, USCIS requires proof that your union as a couple is not a sham to facilitate immigration. You must provide evidence that you two have known each other for a significant period and that you intend to build a future together.

To prove this, you will have to submit a series of documents, which might vary if you’re applying from within the US or not:

Where you areWhat you’ll need
Outside of the US
  • Proof that you are married, such as your marriage certificate or wedding photos
  • Proof that you have children together, like children’s birth certificates and/or adoption certificates
  • Proof that you communicate with each other regularly, for example, records of emails, text messages and call logs
  • Proof of joint-recreational activities such as vacation travel documents — especially to the home country of the immigrant spouse — as well as pictures from events you attended together and receipts for gift items that you purchased for one another over time
  • Proof of long-term commitments, as life insurance documents listing one another as beneficiary, joint-bank accounts, deeds for jointly owned property, etc.
In the US
  • Proof that you live together, like joint mortgage or lease documents, utility bills showing names of both spouses, also drivers’ licences, mail and shopping deliveries for both couples showing the same address
  • Additional documents might be requested to you

In addition, USCIS will conduct an interview⁵, similar to your favorite couple game show, to verify the authenticity of these claims. So, get your documents ready, but don’t forget to ask for your partner’s favorite color while at it.

statue-of-liberty-close-up

Processing times for other types of permanent residency

There are multiple pathways for immigrants to gain permanent residency status in the US. Marriage is only one of them. They take varying amounts of time and processes depending on the type of application that you file.

How long does it take for you to get a Green Card through employment?

As an immigrant employee, getting an employment-based Green Card can be a very competitive but rewarding process. In 2020, the US received 1.2 million employment-based Green Card applications⁶. The highest ever! There’s no gainsaying that immigrant employees often face long waiting periods.

The timeline for admitting you as a permanent worker in the US timeline depends on your pedigree in terms of educational background and skill set.

Here are the three subcategories of immigrant employment in the US:

  • EB-1: First preference for individuals with extraordinary talents/achievements such as outstanding artists, accomplished professors, top athletes, managers of multinational companies etc.
  • EB-2: Those with exceptional ability or advanced degrees
  • EB-3: For skilled workers, professionals, or other workers

Here are some documents you need to file if you are working towards getting an employment-based Green Card:

  • PERM Labor certification to show that you are not potentially taking away a job from American citizens.
  • The Form I-140, to prove that your employer can pay the prevailing wage for the position.

Cumulatively, processing these forms could take anywhere between 6 months to 1 year. But if you are in a rush, for an extra fee of 2,500 USD, you can just request premium processing which takes only 15 days⁷.

How long does it take for you to get a Green Card through family?

If you have parents, siblings or relatives who are legal residents or citizens of the US, this category is for you.

There are different types of family-based Green Cards⁸.

If you apply for a family-based Green Card as a sibling or distant relative, you might need to have some patience. The first step is to file the form I-130, which takes a minimum of 6 months to get approved. This form must be sponsored by your American or US-based relative.

However, USCIS unilaterally decides when they will process the Green Card application. The date is called the “priority date”. Think of this date as your spot in the Green Card queue. You can find the date on the I-797 form sent by USCIS when they approve your I-130 petition.

The average processing time for your family-based Green Card is estimated by adding the I-130 processing time of 6 to 12 months to the priority date waiting time which can take between 1 to 10 years.

The USCIS often makes exceptions for applicants who are immediate relatives of US citizens. They get to step foot on American soil much quicker than others. They don’t need to wait for a visa number or priority date as there is always an immigrant visa available once USCIS approves the I-130 filed on their behalf.

The sponsoring family member can then expedite the permanent residency process by filing both the I-130 and the I-485 adjustment of status application simultaneously once the beneficiary is in the US.

The estimated processing time for this category is between 6 to 12 months.


While the Green Card application process may seem quite costly and time-consuming, don’t be tempted to get into a frenzy.

The USCIS generally determines the processing time, but your own ability to file the correct documents also plays a huge role. To make the processing time shorter, make sure that all your forms are in order and error-free.


Sources:

  1. USCIS - Green Card eligibility
  2. US Government Travel - Family Immigration
  3. USCIS- Permanent Resident Condition
  4. US Government Travel - Non-immigrant Visa
  5. USCIS - Policy Manual
  6. Cato - Employment based Green Card
  7. USCIS - Premium Processing
  8. USCIS - Green Card for Family Immigrants

Sources accessed in 05.05.2021


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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