Obtaining a green card by means of marrying a citizen of the United States is usually thought of as the fastest path toward legal residency. The only other path that would be faster involves joining the military during wartime. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a foreign spouse living in the U.S. could obtain legal residency status in as little as a year after submitting the petition and fees, but this is based on what’s known as normal processing times.
The actual USCIS processing times have been way off the mark since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, and the delays have gotten worse since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March 2020. Let’s take a look at the details about USCIS processing times for foreign spouses seeking green cards after marriage:
- If you’re married to an American citizen and are living outside the U.S., you would normally wait about 18 months
- If you’re married to a legal resident and are living in the U.S., you would normally wait a little over three years.
- If you’re married to a green card holder and are living abroad, you could expect to wait a little over two years.
Keep in mind the processing times above are based on USCIS estimates that don’t reflect what has been happening with regard to immigration policy during the pandemic. In September, an editorial published in the Chicago Tribune explained the tribulations of a teacher from Argentina married to an American citizen. They got married in January and promptly submitted a Form I-130 petition plus the I-485 adjustment of status filing. Nine months later, the teacher hadn’t even received a work permit.
At the USCIS regional office in Chicago, the average backlog for family-based immigration cases, which include marriages to U.S. citizens and green card holders, was about 39 months in October 2020. This could change and improve over the next few months if coronavirus vaccine candidates are granted approval, but government analysts believe an overhaul in terms of internal rules and procedures is desperately needed.
It may take longer than expected for processing times to get back to normal at USCIS. What this means for applicants is they should strongly consider retaining the services of immigration lawyers, such as immigration attorneys in San Diego, CA, before submitting their petitions and applications. Any error or misinterpretation on USCIS forms could result in even more delays. Something else to keep in mind is that the process should be taken one step at a time, which means it’s generally better to pursue the Employment Authorization Card first and then have immigration attorneys check on the status of the application. USCIS is typically averse to extending or renewing work permits, and they may prefer to speed up the interview process prior to granting residency status.
For more information on issues such as citizenship, naturalization, and family-based immigration, San Diego residents should reach out to the experienced immigration attorneys at KS Visa Law. Call us today at 858-874-0711 to schedule an appointment.