Welcome to The Immigration Answers podcast!
In this episode, we talk about the process of bringing an overseas foreign spouse to the US, and the processing times associated with it.
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Today’s question comes from Sarah.
“Hello Mr. Hacking, I’m sorry I don’t speak English very nice because I’m Moroccan. Okay. My husband is a Green Card holder and has filed an I130 for me on April 12th of this year. It’s now November. No response yet. I do not know what to do. Just a reminder, my processing center is in California.”
All right, Sarah. So what this person is asking about is the process of bringing a foreign spouse from overseas. Sometimes, the spouses of a US citizen or a Green Card holder are physically in the United States, but many times, they are overseas. So what Sarah’s talking about is she is physically in Morocco. She’s a Moroccan citizen. Her husband has come to marry her in Morocco and her husband has returned to the United States, probably with a lot of Sarah’s paperwork. Sarah wants to know how long is it going to take, what’s the processing time like, how does it all work?
Now, just as an aside, marriage cases and fiance cases, that’s about half of what we do at our office. We are a strictly immigration law firm. We don’t practice any other kind of law, and within that specialty, we even have a sub-specialty and that is these fiance and marriage-based cases. These are what we do probably 60 to 70% of our work is working on these kinds of cases. We handle all kinds of immigration cases, but this is something that we see regularly.
All right. The name of the form is an I130. That’s how you file a petition for an alien relative, like a spouse. I130s can be filed either by US citizens or by Green Card holders. It sounds like from Sarah’s email that her husband is a Green Card holder. That means he’s a lawful, permanent resident. That means he is not yet a US citizen. So one thing that Sarah needs to understand, and that anybody listening to this podcast needs to understand, is that there are an unlimited number of visas for the spouses of US citizens, but there’s a cap on a number of these kinds of visas that are available for the spouses and children of lawful, permanent residents. That is, that US citizens, they’re never going to be held back by the fact that there are other people in line ahead of them. Their cases are going to be processed according to just how much time it takes. There aren’t delays.
Congress has placed a cap on the number of spouses and children of lawful, permanent residents who can come to the United States each year. That number is roughly around 114,000 of these visas, and that can fluctuate depending on how many other visas are used in other categories, but basically, there’s a cap. Whenever there’s a cap on immigration visas, the flip side of that usually means that there’s a delay. For the spouses or children of lawful, permanent residents, like Sarah, these delays are currently running at around two years. That is, if a US citizen filed for Sarah, she would be here about a year faster than she would because the processing time for a normal I130 for a US citizen’s spouse is about one year.
Right now, this is November of 2017 when we’re recording this, and they’re currently processing the spouse cases for lawful, permanent resident spouses from November of 2015. So there is a much added delay for people from Morocco or other countries that want to come to the United States if they’re married to a Green Card holder. The flip side of that is that we don’t want to delay the cases of US citizens, so there is no cap on US citizens. This is, again, one of the reasons why we’re often encouraging people to keep moving up that immigration ladder. If Sarah’s husband was a US citizen, then she could probably come to the United States a lot faster. That’s one thing to keep in mind.
The other thing is Sarah’s been given what’s called a priority date, and she said that the I130 was filed on April 12th, 2017. So we’ll treat that as her priority date. Basically, her priority date is her place in line. One of the things that she should be watching is the Visa Bulletin. A Visa Bulletin, if you type in “Visa Bulletin” on Google, you can find it pretty quickly, and it has a chart. On that chart, it talks about all the different kinds of visas, and the kind of category for family-sponsored preferences that Sarah’s in is the F2A category, which are the spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful, permanent residents. Like I said, they’re currently handling cases from two years ago. So each month, Sarah or her husband or both of them can check to see where her priority date is and there’ll be a time where she’s then eligible to continue processing.
We say all this because you have to remember, when you’re sponsoring a family member to come to the United States, you’re dealing with two agencies: USCIS, which is currently handling Sarah’s case, and then the State Department. We wanted to educate Sarah and all of you on the length of time that it takes for lawful, permanent residents to get their spouses cases approved because that impacts USCIS’s willingness to process the cases very quickly. In other words, USCIS knows for a fact that the spouse of a Green Card holder is not going to be able to come for two years, so they process the I130s filed by US citizens faster. That is, they know that there aren’t going to be any visas available for a while and it’s okay, in their mind, to process the cases of a Green Card holder spouse a little bit more slowly than they would for a US citizen.
Sarah points out that her case is being processed at the California Service Center. That doesn’t really impact what we’re talking about. Basically, USCIS is taking its time on her case because they know that it’s going to be two years until a visa even becomes available for her. In their mind, why should they jump in and work on those cases hardcore when they have the spouses of US citizen cases to handle? We hope that answers your question, Sarah. Now you did mention in the email that you hadn’t heard anything yet. I’m assuming that you got a receipt notice and that’s how you got your priority date, so if that’s not the case, then there’s probably a problem. Other than that, it sounds like your case is on track, that nothing unusual has happened, and that come next year, the middle of next year, you should move along from USCIS and then eventually to the National Visa Center when your visa becomes current, and you should be in good shape to come to the United States.