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.

By , J.D., University of Washington School of Law

Waiting for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a "green card") can be a long and trying process. For one thing, 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 causes a mismatch in supply and demand. Long waits are the result (based on one's "priority date"). But even without this problem, U.S. immigration authorities are chronically backlogged with applications.

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

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 issues like the following:

  • Bureaucratic backlog in your application category. The normal wait for government action on an immigration application 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 a particular 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 could potentially 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. (And if you see a "C" in your place on the chart, rejoice, because you won't face a wait after all, as has occurred sometimes in category 2A in recent years.)

Also see Why Is My Immigration Case Taking So Long?.

Inquire About Delayed Government Processing

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 Contact Center. Unfortunately, you'll have to get past an automated phone system, and the person who eventually calls you back (hopefully) will not be the one who is handling your file. You might get only secondhand information, based on whatever is shown in the USCIS computer system. In some cases, the contact center will set up a personal appointment for you to visit a local USCIS office for closer personal attention.

If you've having trouble reaching the Contact Center, or feel sure that a personal appointment will be necessary, you can try requesting one via USCIS's online "My Appointment" portal. This is new as of late 2023, so it's impossible to assess whether it will be faster or more effective than going through the Contact Center. Also, getting an appointment isn't guaranteed; USCIS will evaluate your need after you submit the request.

When to Ask U.S. Immigration Authorities for Expedited Processing

In rare cases, when facing a true emergency, you might be able to ask U.S. immigration authorities to speed up consideration of your case. For example, if you're trying to get a K-1 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 Prepare 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. If uncomfortable in English, have a friend look over your application materials or hire an attorney.

Get Legal 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.