Waiting Times for Spouses and Children of U.S. Green Card Holders Greatly Reduced

November 17, 2010

For the first time in recent memory, U.S. green card holders can benefit from greatly reduced waiting times to sponsor their spouses and minor children for green cards.  Earlier this summer, the State Department acknowledged that the family-based immigrant category for spouses and minor children of U.S. permanent residents was experiencing much lower usage than had been the case for years.  Since then the agency has been moving up the quota-based cutoff date (known as the priority date) in this category every month, with the effect of allowing the beneficiary family members to apply to immigrate within less than 6 months.  As recently as this May the waiting period was estimated at over 3 years.

Standing to benefit from this welcome change are U.S. permanent residents whose spouses and children were unable to immigrate with them, typically because the marriage took place after the permanent resident was granted this status.  When a foreign national marries a U.S. citizen, there is no quota or waiting period before the U.S. citizen can petition for the foreign national spouse to obtain permanent resident status.  However, when a foreign national marries a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder), there is an annual quota on the numbers of such spouses (and minor children) who may immigrate to the U.S. in any fiscal year.  Until this summer, a U.S. permanent resident who married a foreign national faced a wait of 3 years or more until that spouse could immigrate to the U.S.  This could mean years of separation if the spouse was outside the U.S. without his or her own eligibility for status in the U.S.  The discouragingly long waiting period often meant that families waited until the U.S. permanent resident was able to naturalize, which itself could take years, before initiating the petitioning process as a U.S. citizen.

At present, the waiting period has been reduced to a manageable period of only a few months.  The first step involves the U.S. permanent resident filing an immigrant petition on behalf of the spouse (and children, if any).  The date of filing this petition is the priority date for the beneficiary spouse or child.  The State Department notes in its monthly Visa Bulletin which priority date is current for immigrant visa processing.  When the beneficiary’s priority date is listed as current in the Visa Bulletin, that person is eligible to immigrate.  If the immigrant petition has been approved and the beneficiary is living abroad, then the immigrant visa process will commence.  If the beneficiary is living in the U.S. in valid nonimmigrant status, he or she can file an application to adjust status to permanent resident in the month that the priority date becomes current.

For December 2010, the current priority date for the category of spouses and minor children of a U.S. permanent resident is August 1, 2010.   Thus, all beneficiaries of immigrant petitions filed before August 1, 2010 in this category are eligible to immigrate in December.

It is uncertain for how long this category will remain underutilized.  The waiting times may progress back to historical levels quickly, especially if there is a considerable surge in filings from eligible U.S. permanent residents on behalf of their family members.  Certainly it is advisable for all such permanent residents to file their immigrant petitions on behalf of their spouses and children without delay, to take advantage of the current reduction in waiting times.