Green cards (immigrant visas) are limited to a fixed number each year. For family-based green cards (relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents), the quota is about 226,000. For employment-based green cards, the quota is about 140,000. The quota is further divided into separate categories (such as EB-2 and EB-3), each with a separate quota.

To complicate matters further, no more than about 25,000 visas can be issued to citizens of any one country.

The United States Department of State is in charge of keeping track of how many visas are issued in the various categories. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they do a terrible job of educating the public about how the quota system works. So I will try to explain the system in a few sentences.

The State Department tries to ensure that visas are issued based on first-come, first-served. The Visa Bulletin is a waiting list that tells applicants where they are on the list.

But it is an inexact waiting list. It doesn't indicate how many people are on the list before you.

Imagine being told at a busy restaurant that you must wait for a table, but the Maitre D' cannot tell you how many people are waiting before you. "You came at 7:00 P.M., and we are now seating people who arrived at 6:00 P.M. But we can't tell you how many people arrived between 6:00 and 7:00, or how long you will have to wait. Enjoy your evening."

It gets even worse. Sometimes, the government makes a mistake. "Sorry, we forgot about a number of customers who came at 5:00 P.M., so now you have to wait even longer."

So how does a rational person deal with this system? You need much patience and firm guidance. Here's what I tell my clients applying through their employers:

1. For EB-2 cases for citizens of every country except those born in India and China, there is no waiting list. Your case will get done as soon as Immigration processes the application (which can still take 1-2 years).

2. For EB-2 cases for persons born in China, the waiting list is about 4 years. This might speed up a little in the next year or two.

3. For EB-2 cases for persons born in India, the wait is about 5 years. This might speed up in the future, although I'm not optimistic because there is a very large number of Indian applicants in this category.

4. For EB-3 cases for citizens of every country except those born in India, China and Mexico, the wait is about 3-4 years. This probably will NOT speed up in the future.

5. For EB-3 cases for persons born in Mexico, India and China, the wait is currently about 8 years. This should speed up in the next 1-2 years.

6. Indians, Mexicans and Chinese can get into the faster quota for a different country if they are married to a person born in a different country.

7. The United States Congress is keenly aware of these long delays, and there have been a number of proposals to change the law to speed up the process in all the employment-based categories. But such changes are unlikely while the economy is in a shambles, so don't expect help from Congress in the next year or two.

16 Comments

Comment added on 13 May 2009 by mamasud91:
when should I start counting my waiting time from..priority date or the date I-485 was applied?
Comment added on 14 May 2009 by ssuurrss:
I am EB3 Nov 2001. When will this torture end? Life is on hold, don't dare change employer to avoid complications. Isn't the US against Torture?
Comment added on 15 May 2009 by medesi:
I am EB3 April 2001 and my 485 is on july 27th 2007. When can i expect my GC. What counts is it the Priority Date or the date of 485 Filing
Comment added on 10 Jul 2009 by FriendyAnil:
hello, if am married in usa of any other foreign country, so i don't have any prob. thanks
Comment added on 10 Jul 2009 by FriendyAnil:
hello, if am married in usa of any other foreign country, so i don't have any prob. thanks
Comment added on 02 Mar 2010 by queendeer:
I like the explanation of David on each category. Good job, and very helpful.
Comment added on 27 Jun 2010 by malou56:
i am a citizen of australia and married to a us citizen and we file and pay for the petition it has been approved but im green card is not here yet so how long will i get a visa number/green card.
Comment added on 31 Aug 2010 by amandaaguilar2:
my husband is from mexico and he is in the usa illegally for 7 years we have been together for 5 years and legal married or 2 years , we recently tryed to hire a lawer and he told us there is not much he cand do, if he dose help us he will bebared for 10 years. we have a 2 year old son together. what should we do?
Comment added on 17 May 2011 by littlelady:
Hi my family applied for the GC on 98 I believe and I was wondering how long does it usually take before they get to any application? And is there any way we can make the posses faster! We talked to a lawyer some months ago and he said nothing but wait then we spoke to another lawyer and he said to wait since laws were changing. What should we do?? Thank you
Comment added on 28 Aug 2011 by mihirpatel:
i have my relatives staying in usa for many years and they have put up our file of greencard under the category of F4 in the year 2001. so i would like to know how much time will it still take for the process.
Comment added on 06 Oct 2011 by bond4u:
I am not sure if US government is seeing this correctly by holding Green card for high skilled immigrant for that long. Many high skilled emigrant are educated in US and could be future entrepreneur who can create thousands of American jobs. Also thousand of these guys have good paying job but they are not buying houses because there uncertain status in US if they can get PR this will certainly bring news buyers in housing market. This will be win win situation other wise skilled immigrants can still hung on their current jobs for years by renting and loosing their new business ideas and so does US government opportunity to bring home buyers and future job creators.
Comment added on 04 Dec 2011 by annwin:
Hi - I'm a natural born US citizen who just married a man from Senegal. We'd like to return to the US and both work. How long could we expect to wait? Thanks.
Comment added on 12 Apr 2012 by ewa0404:
ur so right,it is a torture.I got master's and license in USA,my whole family is there (citizens),yet I had to leave the country and wait for be able to come,I can't even visit for Christmas etc. I've been waiting for 7 years now.It is so inhumane. This country claims to fight against injustice and what about honest people like me?why I need to wait?
Comment added on 03 Jun 2012 by Sneh1982:
I am US citizen since April 2008. I have applied Green Card for my married sister in August 2008. When she will get her Green Card. Thank You.
Comment added on 16 Nov 2012 by Pbenaziza:
I am a US citizen From Chicago and My Fiance is from Tunisia North Africa What is the waiting period? wondering if I should do a Fiance Visa or do the Green Card which one is easier for him to get to the States and faster? Righnt now I am acutally in Tunisia.Thank you PN
Comment added on 17 Dec 2012 by lolek:
This is a real torture, looks like they still have the slavery attitude towards immigrants. If they openly say, it would have helped many not to go through this process.
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