Skip to navigation

Immigrant Visa Processing Demystified - Part 1 Family Based Immigration

Aug. 19, 2020

Family Based immigrant petitions are filed for a relative of a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), otherwise known as a Green Card holder.

A U.S. citizen can apply for their spouse, parent, child (over or under 21), or sibling and no others. A Lawful Permanent Resident can apply for an immigrant visa for their spouse, child, or unmarried adult (over 21) child. The length of time it takes to bring a relative to the United States depends on the relationship and other factors such as the age and marital status of the child. An immediate relative (spouse, child, or parent) of a U.S. citizen, for instance, might migrate to the U.S. relatively quickly. Conversely, it will take many years for a sibling of a U.S. citizen to migrate to the U.S.

The process for applying for a relative includes 1) Petition for Alien Relative, and 2) Immigrant Visa Processing for relatives abroad or Adjustment of Status for relatives who qualify and who are in the U.S.

A spouse of a U.S. citizen may be the fastest processing immigrant visa. However, to the citizen spouse waiting for their spouse to arrive in the U.S., the wait can seem quite long and can exceed 14 months. Immigration used to be governed by a desire to promote family unity. In fact, you can still find references to family unity on the website. The reality, however, is ever extending processing delays that do anything but promote family unity. If a U.S. citizen applies today for their immediate relative who lives outside the U.S., they must first file a Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130. The current processing time for the Petition for Alien Relative is six to nine and a half (6-9.5) months, versus the previous five-month processing we enjoyed just a few years ago. Once this I-130 time passes, the approval is sent to the U.S. Department of State’s National Visa Center if the relative is outside the U.S. The NVC process can extend to six (6) months or longer.

The National Visa Center (NVC) can be somewhat of a black hole of processing. There was a time when the NVC worked very efficiently with cases moving through to the Consulate for scheduling of an interview within 60-90 days of the I-130 approval. A quick processing time at the NVC and the I-130 and Immigrant Visa processing combined took only about ten to twelve months. I am actually a big fan of the Department of State’s NVC processing page. It provides the best information available in immigration processing and allows the administratively inclined applicant to navigate the process themselves. In 2020, however, the NVC processing can be a slow and rather painful process marked by delays. Our firm has seen cases stalled by the NVC for ten months even after they acknowledged that all documents were complete for the case. In these cases, diligence and constant communications with the NVC are really critical to keep the process moving along.

How slow can it get? The slowest processing in the family-based context is the sibling of a U.S. citizen category. If a U.S. citizen applied for their sibling in Mexico before June 1, 1998, their sibling can just now go to the consulate for an interview and migrate to the U.S. Some may say that the sibling category is a remote relationship but what about a married adult child (over 21) of a U.S. citizen? A Mexican citizen who is the married adult child of a U.S. citizen who applied before July 15, 1996 can only now go to the Consulate for a visa interview. This means that, if your child was born in Mexico and got married before you became a U.S. citizen, must wait twenty-four years to migrate to the U.S. The same category, married adult child of a U.S. Citizen, where the adult child is a European citizen will take half the time or about twelve years. This long delay can be disheartening for family members seeking family unity.

The immigrant visas processing can be a difficult process for families to navigate. The system requires patience and advanced planning with the key being understanding the process and being proactive. This message is a courtesy of Attorney Stephanie Scarborough and Scarborough Law, LLC. If you need assistance with your family-based immigrant petition, please reach out for a free 15-minute case evaluation by scheduling at or emailing

In our next post, we will demystify priority dates and cutoff dates so that you can tell when your eligible to apply for your immigrant visa or adjustment of status.