Home / Population and society / Articles / How long does family-based immigration to the US take?

Family-based immigration most often involves people moving to the US to reunite with their spouse/fiancé(e) and children, or children being adopted from abroad. Per recent Department of Homeland Security data, spouses, dependent children, and parents trying to join family members in the US have median wait times of nearly a year, give or take a few months.

In other situations, family members can wait even longer. The family-based immigration process is subject to varying timelines, primarily influenced by the applicant’s relationship to a US citizen and their country of origin.

What is family-based immigration?

Family-based immigration, facilitated through US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), allows American citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor visas for specific family members; these can ultimately lead to permanent residency. This visa pathway was solidified with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which relaxed Cold War-era immigration quotas to grant entry to more skilled laborers and allow more people to reunite with family members living in the US.

Unlike employment-based and asylum visas that fulfill economic or humanitarian objectives, family-based immigration prioritizes keeping families together.

How long do family members have to wait to immigrate to the US?

Spouses, dependent children, and parents of US citizens tend to have shorter waiting times than other family members. Between October 2022 and September 2023, the median wait time for spouses, dependent children, and parents was 11.8 months nationally, while petitions for fiancé(e)s had a median wait of 13.9 months. Processing times vary by regional office depending on application volumes, workload allocations, staffing, and other factors. There is no specific legal timeframe for the US to respond to immigration visa applicants.

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Median processing times for international adoption immigration cases have also increased: approximately 49.2 months as of 2023.

For family categories such as “Unmarried Sons and Daughters of US Citizens” and “Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents,” the wait times can be even longer, from several years to more than a decade.

How many people are on the visa waiting list?

As of November 1, 2022, the State Department reported 4.08 million people waiting for their visa applications to be processed. This is the overall total of both family-sponsored and employment-based applications and includes both the primary applicants and their eligible dependents, including spouses and children.

Most of the waiting list is family members: 3.92 million people (95.9% of applicants) are applying for family sponsorship, while 168,148 people (4.1%) fall under the employment-based preference.

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How long do other immigration applicants take?

The time it takes to process a visa application can vary widely depending on the specific form being filed. Last year's median wait times for all immigration applications — not just family and work-related programs — demonstrated a broad range, from under a month to almost five years.

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This variance is influenced by a range of factors, including the annual cap for each visa type, the applicant's country of origin, changes in US immigration policies, and the intricacies of administrative procedures.

Where does this data come from?

Data on nationwide immigration visa processing times comes from the USCIS website, which compiles median processing times across all local offices. Regional variations can be found by contacting your local field office or looking up more detailed processing time estimates by visa type and service center.

Further information on family-sponsored immigration figures by country as of November 1, 2022 comes from the National Visa Center, provided by the State Department.

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Historical National Median Processing Time (in Months) for All USCIS Offices for Select Forms By Fiscal Year
Last updated
December 31, 2023
Check Case Processing Times
Annual Report of Immigrant Visa Applicants in the Family-sponsored and Employment-based preferences Registered at the National Visa Center as of November 1, 2022
Last updated
November 1, 2022