U.S. Family Sponsorship Green Card Timeframe

U.S. Family Sponsorship Green Card Timeframe

Nearly every person interested in immigration has the same question:

How long does the family green card process take?

The answer to this question isn’t straightforward due to government bureaucracy, backlogs, and other factors. However, we are going to try our best today to provide general time frames related to U.S. family sponsorship for green cards, including marriage-based green cards.

U.S. Green Cards for Immediate Relatives

U.S. immigration laws apply very specific definitions to family relationships, and create categories and preferences based on these definitions. 

There are an unlimited number of green cards available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, defined as:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Children (unmarried and under 21) of U.S. citizens
  • Parents of U.S. citizens who are 21 or older

Generally speaking, it takes between 12 - 16 months for consular processing of an immediate relative green card to occur. Applications filed via the Adjustment of Status process tend to take a bit longer than consular process applications. However, these timeframes are an estimate only. For example, if USCIS issues a Request for Evidence (RFE) for your application, the processing time may be extended by several months.

For all other family members that do not fit in the immediate relatives category, the U.S. applies preference categories with annual caps allotted to each category based on the priority date.

Family Preference Categories: Family Sponsorship Green Cards

Demand for U.S. family sponsorship green cards far outstrips the supply. For that reason, the United States follows the following preference classes for allotting Family Sponsorship green cards:

First (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens - 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.

Second: Spouses and children (unmarried and under 21), and unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. permanent residents - 114,200 plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused first preference numbers. These are divided as follows:

Second F2A: Spouses and children of U.S. permanent residents - 77%of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit.

Second F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of U.S. permanent residents - 23% of the overall second preference limitation.

Third (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens - 23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.

Fourth (F4): Brothers and sisters of adult (21 years+) U.S. citizens - 65,000, plus any numbers not required by the first three preferences.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Family Sponsorship Green Card?

The waiting period for a U.S. family sponsorship green card is largely determined by the preference category that the family member is in. In addition, the country of origin of the applicant matters as the U.S. seeks to increase immigrant diversity. 

The priority date is the date that USCIS received the I-130 petition. Per the USCIS April 2023 Visa Bulletin, the following Final Action priority dates apply:


All Chargeability Areas Except Those Lists

China - Mainland Born


































What do the Final Action priority dates mean, exactly? In a nutshell, they list which priority dates have reached the front of the line. Individuals with a priority date prior to the date listed above for their applicable preference category and chargeability area (i.e. country of birth of the applicant) are finally at the front of the line - a green card is available for them! 

As the above chart demonstrates, waiting periods for U.S. family sponsorship green cards vary dramatically based on the family preference category and the chargeability area. For those applying under the F2A preference category, there is a relatively short waiting period - approximately 2 1/2 years. Meanwhile, applicants born in Mexico who are applying under the F3 preference category have a waiting period of over 25 years!

USCIS publishes its Visa Bulletin every month, which means the dates above will be outdated shortly. Therefore, they are used for illustrative purposes only. The primary information an individual considering U.S. family sponsorship should take away from this article is that time is of the essence - you should not delay filing your I-130 to begin the process, because the priority date will dictate your place in the queue.

Interested in learning more? Check out our Family Sponsorship Green Card services page and our Marriage Immigration Green Card page.

Schedule a Strategy Session with our immigration lawyers today!

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