What is an immigrant visa (“IV”)?

Foreign citizens who want to live permanently in the United States must first obtain an immigrant visa. This is the first step to becoming a lawful permanent resident.

What is a green card?

A green card is a common term for a permanent resident (“PR”) card. The term is derived from a time when PR cards were printed on green paper. The card is still green but has over the years changed color.

Being a permanent resident affords you the right to live and work in the US on a permanent basis (although some green cards are subject to conditions (conditional resident visas).

You will not receive your physical green card until you enter the US. While outside, you are granted a temporary immigrant visa stamped inside your passport.

Am I eligible to apply for an immigrant visa?

The family relationships and specific types of employment that can be sponsored for immigration purposes are based on U.S. immigration laws, which establish both the allowable immigrant visa categories, requirements for eligibility, and procedures. While many family relationships can be sponsored, some family relationships cannot be sponsored to immigrate to the United States. To immigrate based on employment, both employer and prospective employee must meet certain requirements.

The petition filed by the U.S. sponsor must be approved by USCIS before you can begin the steps in immigrant visa application process. See individual visa category pages.

Who can file a family immigrant visa petition?

A U.S. citizen can file an immigrant visa petition for:

• Spouse
• Son or daughter
• Parent
• Brother or sister

A U.S. lawful permanent resident (that is, a green-card holder) can file an immigrant visa petition for:

• Spouse
• Unmarried son or daughter

Who can be a sponsor?

Your petitioner is ordinarily your sponsor but the terms are not strictly synonymous. You may also rely upon joint-sponsors, in which case, one or more of your sponsors may be someone other than the petitioner.

When my petition is approved, how long does it take to receive a green card?

It depends on the category of visa. In some cases, you will receive your green card within a few months of petition approval – the precise amount of time depends on the embassy/consulate at which your visa application is processed. In others, it may take as much as 15 years to receive your green card.

Why can it take so long to receive a green card after petition approval?

The US limits the number of immigrant visa numbers available each year in certain visa categories. When you file a petition, you are assigned a priority date. The priority date accords with the date on which the petition was accepted. The priority date determines when you become eligible to apply for adjustment of status or an immigrant visa at the embassy/consulate.

For example, if you are a British citizen, your priority date is in February 2004 and your application is for a family (f-4) visa based on your sibling’s filing, you will be eligible to apply for your visa in January 2017 (approximately 13 years after filing).

Citizens of some countries have, historically, been the recipients of more immigrant visas and as a result, can take longer to become eligible to apply.

If you are a Chinese citizen in the same circumstances as the above example, you become eligible approximately 11 months after the British citizen. If your priority date is February 2004, you will likely become eligible at the end of 2017.