How to Speed Up the Green Card Application Process

Delays are inevitable with U.S. immigration applications, but there are steps you can take to avoid the worst of them.

Waiting for a green card can be a long and trying procedure. Because of the large number of people who wish to immigrate to the United States, and limits on the numbers of green cards or visas that can be given out annually in certain categories, U.S. immigration authorities are usually heavily backlogged with applications.

Is there any way to speed up the process so that your green card gets approved faster? For the most part, speeding up the process is impossible. However, below we will give you some tips for avoiding unusual or disastrous sorts of delays.

Warning: The coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in long delays in every part of every immigration process. As of May 2020, there is almost no way to complete the green card process at all, owing to government office closures to in-person visits. Even after things reopen, expect delays as the U.S. government makes its way through the backlog.

Understand the Usual Timeline for Your Green Card or Visa

It's important to understand what is considered "normal" in the process of applying for a green card or visa. No matter what, it will probably take longer than you would like. Do your research at the beginning, so that you will not be surprised by the following:

  • The usual bureaucratic backlog in your application category. This can often be checked online. For example, if you're applying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), try using the Check Case Processing Times page of its website to get an indication of the current, average wait times for particular applications. Or if you already have a receipt for an application, go to the Case Status Online page.
  • Whether annual limits slow down visa availability in your category. If, for example, you are applying for a family-based visa and are not the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you are in what's called a "preference category," where annual limits apply. That means you will likely wait years on a waiting list for a visa number to become available. Similarly, annual limits on employment-based green cards result in long waits in certain categories. Your place on the waiting list depends on your "priority date," which is based on the date that either your family-based I-130 petition or your labor certification was first filed. To check on what priority dates are currently becoming eligible for visas, see the State Department ‘s latest Visa Bulletin.

Once you understand the sources of delays, you will be better able to track whether your application seems to have fallen behind the rest. At that point, you would want to contact whoever is handling your application and find out what's going wrong.

If USCIS is handling your application, call its customer contact line. Unfortunately, the person who answers will not be the one who is handling your file, so you might get secondhand information based on whatever is shown in the USCIS computer system. In some cases, this office will set up a personal appointment for you to visit a local USCIS office.

When to Ask for Expedited Processing

In rare cases, when you're facing a true emergency, you might be able to ask the immigration authorities to speed up consideration of your case. For example, if you're trying to get a fiancé visa for an immigrant who is hoping to get married before receiving a much-needed kidney transplant, that might be grounds for a request for expedited processing. You would want to submit a letter to whoever is handling your case, along with documentation proving the emergency.

In normal circumstances, however, bugging the immigration authorities to put your application ahead of the rest will get you nowhere.

Carefully Preparing Your Green Card or Visa Application

By far the best thing that you can do to make sure that your green card application is processed as quickly as possible is to make sure that all of your paperwork is in order prior to filing. If you leave something out of an application, the whole thing can be sent back to you, or you might receive a letter requesting follow-up documents. Such issues invariably add weeks or months to the process.

Carefully read and follow any instructions from USCIS or other immigration authorities regarding your paperwork. Check many times over to be sure that you have filled in all of the requested information on your forms and included the appropriate documents, fee, and photos.

Getting Help

An experienced immigration attorney can help you to make sure your application is prepared appropriately and then track it through the system. If you didn't hire an attorney at the beginning of the process, you might want to find one after encountering unusual delays.

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