Every year, about 810,558 immigrants apply to become U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (“LPRs,” better known as green card holders) through family members. Of these, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) approves about 88% and denies 12%. The denial rate has been relatively consistent over the past four years. Meanwhile, the total time it takes to get approved for a U.S. Green Card (also called “Lawful Permanent Residence,” a form of legal status) has increased from 12.8 months to 19.8 months from 2016 to 2020. Family Green Card applications have four basic phases: 1) Petition, 2) Application, 3) Interview, and 4) Final Decision. USCIS or the National Visa Center may reject or deny applications at any of these phases. Whether you are applying for a Family Green Card or researching U.S. Green Card trends, this article has you covered with the stats you need to understand and navigate each of these four application phases. Keeping family units together is a core policy of US immigration law, along with such other policies as refugee resettlement, attracting skilled workers, and promoting diversity. Unlike with asylum seekers (also called “asylees”) and economic migrants, however, the United States does not limit how many spouses, parents, and minor children of US Citizens it admits each year. Even some relatives of non-citizens with green cards get green cards of their own, a system called “family preference.” Keeping family units together is central to American immigration law.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
How Many Family Green Card Holders Are There in the United States?
Immigrants with Green Cards are a significant part of the U.S. population. At the end of 2019, there were about 13.6 million green card holders in the U.S., according to the DHS and U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey datasets. The Office of Immigration Statistics reports that about 63 to 68% of new Green Cards issued per year between 2016 and 2018 were Family Green Cards. Assuming the 2016-2018 stats represent average years, we can estimate that there were approximately 8.5 to 9.3 million Family Green Card holders in the U.S. at the end of 2019.
Green Card holders come from all over the world — from Guatemala to the Philippines, from Africa to India. In terms of demographics and countries of origin, approximately 23% of green card holders are from Mexico, the largest group as of 2019. This is followed by China. Chinese immigrants make up 6% of the Green Card population, according to Department of Homeland Security datasets on legal immigration and the foreign-born population. Over 38% of green card holders come from Hispanic countries, according to the same data.
Of the 13.6 million green card holders, about 9.1 million are eligible to become United States Citizens (a process called naturalization). Since 63-68% of new Green Cards are Family Green Cards, we can estimate that the number of people with Family Green Cards who are eligible for U.S. citizenship by naturalization is between 5.7 and 6.2 million.
How Many Immigrants Apply for Family Green Cards Each Year?
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is the agency responsible for issuing Family Green Card applications. The number of people who apply for family Green Cards each year is equal to the number of I-130 FORMS (Petition for Alien Relative) that USCIS receives.
In 2019, 659,443 people applied for Family Green Cards by submitting Form I-130 to USCIS. This number is well below the average of 848,362 Family Green Card applications per year that USCIS received between 2015 and 2018. In 2016, the number of immigrants who applied for Family Green Cards was over 934,000. Still, that number has steadily fallen in the years since, as shown in the table below:
Annual USCIS Family Green Card Applications from 2015-2019
Source: USCIS I-130 Data through the start of fiscal year 2020.
Each year, about 68% of Family Green Card applications come from immediate family members of US citizens (such as their parents or underage children). The other 32% come from what USCIS calls “preference relatives.” The preference relative category includes relatives of current green card holders as well as adult children and brothers or sisters of US citizens.
For more statistics on Family Green Cards and other immigration statuses, visit the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, Migration Policy Institute stats page and data hub, or the Pew Research Center.
Immigration Data on submitted Family Green Card applications by quarter
How many Family Green Card applications are currently pending?
Family Green Card applications submitted from inside of the US are processed entirely by USCIS. Applications submitted from outside of the US get processed by both USCIS and the State Department's National Visa Center (NVC).
The State Department processes Family Green Card applications within about two months of receiving them and does not maintain much of a backlog. USCIS, on the other hand, has an enormous backlog and is usually processing applications many months to years after receiving them. Because of these differences in processing speed, this section will focus on the applications pending with USCIS.
USCIS provides data on two points at which Family Green Card applications may be pending: when they are processing Form I-130 and when they are processing Form I-485. Adding together pending I-130 and I-485s, the two forms in the “adjustment of status” Family Green Card process, there were 1,858,688 Family Green Card applications pending with USCIS at the end of March 2020. For context, that’s nearly three times the number of Family Green Card applications that USCIS received in 2019.
Pending Family Green Card Petitions: 1,543,181
Submitting Form I-130 is the first step in getting a Family Green Card. A U.S. Citizen or green card holder files an I-130 petition for their immigrant family member. Then, the immigrant seeking a Family Green Card files a green card application once USCIS approves the I-30 and a Green Card becomes available for them. As we will explain later in this article, the length of time it takes USCIS to process these applications can range from a few months to several years.
There are currently 1,543,181 Form I-130 petitions pending with USCIS as of the end of March 2020. This number is almost twice the number of applications that were pending with USCIS just five years ago. It’s not clear from the data why USCIS’s backlog continues to increase over time even as the number of applications decreases, but the Trump Administration’s strict immigration policies are part of the reason.
Pending Family Green Card Applications: 315,507
Submitting Form I-485 or Form DS-260 is the second step of the Family Green Card application process. These forms are the actual Family Green Card Application. The immigrant seeking a Green Card submits the relevant form (I-485 if applying from inside the U.S., DS-260 if applying from outside of the U.S.) after USCIS approves their Form I-130 and a green card becomes available for them.
As of March 31, 2020, there were 315,507 Form I-485 Family Green Card applications pending with USCIS. While the State Department’s National Visa Center does not report how many DS-260 applications are currently pending, the processing time for those forms is only about two months, so there likely isn’t a significant backlog.
Immigration and Citizenship Data on pending Family Green Card applications
Due to the effect of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on government agencies, the backlog of Family Green Card petitions and applications may continue to grow. USCIS last released data for this year as of the end of March, before the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing. You can learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted USCIS processing times on the USCIS website.
How many Family Green Card applications does USCIS issue each year?
Each year, the United States government issues, on average, around 732,000 Family Green Cards. According to USCIS, the government approved 731,552 Form I-130 applications in 2018. However, it is not clear whether the higher number of approvals in 2018 will repeat in 2020 or whether 2018 was an abnormally good year for green card applicants.
The available USCIS processing data does not indicate whether the approvals were primarily from the available USCIS processing data does not indicate whether the approvals were primarily from the enormous backlog or from new submissions. Given that applications take an average of 12 months to process, it is safe to assume that these were mostly backlog applications. So, it is very difficult to draw any conclusions as to the current administration's Green Card approval rate when there are nearly two years of applications in backlog.
For the latest stats on Family Green Card approvals and denials in 2020, you can visit the USCIS website, where the data is updated after each calendar quarter.
Immigration Data on issued Family Green Card applications
|Form I-130 Approvals||729,775||665,129||540,463||591,153|
|Family Green Cards Issued||678,978||804,794||748,746||695,524|
Source: Office of Immigration Statistics: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics for Fiscal Year 2018 (includes adjustment of status and new arrivals) and quarterly reports by USCIS. “Total Applications” is the sum of new Form I-130 petitions filed plus the combined total of pending Family Green Card applications at all application stages. The Approval Rate is the total number of Family Green Cards issued divided by Total Applications, rounded.
How many Family Green Card applications does USCIS deny each year?
According to USCIS, the government denied 139,696 Family Green Card petitions and applications in 2019, significantly more than in any year from 2015 to 2019 (the years for which data is available from USCIS). While 2019 was also a record year for approvals, the total number of applications received was lower than in prior years. This increase in denials may be due to either changes in immigration policy, a higher volume of applications processed, or both.
From 2015 to 2018, the denial rate rose from 14% to 17%, while the total number of applications processed per year fell from 716,464 in 2015 to 583,176 in 2018. (The denial rate here is calculated as total denials of Forms I-130 and I-485 as a percentage of all applications processed. USCIS does not have publicly accessible data available on how many applications were denied at the interview phase, so this calculation is not exact).
So, USCIS is processing fewer applications and denying more of the applications it does process. Notably, there was no significant change in the rate of denials relative to approvals during this period.
Immigration Data on denied Family Green Card applications
|Denials of I-130||71,656||59,228||56,461||54,542||81,244|
|Denials of I-485||30,650||32,963||36,319||43,654||58,452|
As we will discuss in the next section of this article, there are several reasons that USCIS might deny a Family Green Card application. Paperwork errors or “inadmissibility grounds,” like criminal records or prior immigration trouble, can cause denials. To learn more about green card denials (and how to avoid them), check out our detailed guides to the Family Green Card application processes. You can also visit the Department of Homeland Security’s website and the State Department’s website for more technical information.
What are the five most common reasons that Family Green Card applications are denied?
In this section, we will discuss the five common reasons that the U.S. government denies Family Green Card applications.
Reason 1: Insufficient Family Relationship
To get a Family Green Card, you need to prove that you have a valid family relationship with a US Citizen or “Lawful Permanent Resident” (green card holder). For this reason, both the petitioner (the immigrant seeking the green card) and their US Citizen or green card-holder family member need to submit paperwork that proves their relationship to USCIS. Immigrants with temporary visas and unauthorized immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status cannot sponsor their family members for green cards.
The petitioner’s family member must fill out and submit Form I-130 and supporting documents that prove their relationship to the immigrant who is applying for status. One way of establishing a marital relationship, for example, is to submit 10-15 photos of the couple together in a variety of settings throughout their relationship along with Form I-130. Failing to submit this form, or failing to establish a valid family relationship with it, can cause USCIS to deny your application.
Reason 2: Forms Filled Out Incorrectly
The forms you will fill out to apply for a Family Green Card have detailed instructions that you need to follow carefully. Incorrectly filling out a form could cause the U.S. government to deny your application. Even leaving one question that doesn't apply to you blank may cause USCIS to reject your application! The bottom line? Be very, very careful when you fill out immigration paperwork.
You can use our detailed Family Green Card filing guides to make sure that you don't miss any application steps.
Reason 3: Inadmissibility because of Criminal Record
The Immigration and Nationality Act, the source of U.S. immigration law, allows USCIS to deny green card applications to immigrants who have been convicted of certain crimes. Several questions on Form I-485, which you will use to apply for your Family Green Card, ask about criminal activity. If you have any relevant criminal activity in your past, the U.S. government may consider you to be “inadmissible.” For example, having two convictions with combined sentences of five or more years in prison, or any controlled-substances, prostitution, or drug trafficking convictions will usually make you inadmissible.
The government might deny your application if the Department of Homeland Security considers you a security risk. This could happen if, for example, you have ever been involved in any terrorist organization. The security risk rule still applies even if your involvement was involuntary. This rule applies not just to convictions in America; it also applies to convictions in your country of birth or other countries. For example, under these rules, USCIS can deny a green card to a Mexican national with a criminal conviction in El Salvador.
Reason 4: Inadmissibility because of Prior Immigration Trouble
USCIS may deny your Family Green Card application if you have had trouble with American immigration enforcement authorities in the past. It doesn’t matter whether the issue was with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP” or “the Border Patrol”), the Department of Homeland Security, or USCIS - trouble is trouble. For example, USCIS can deny your application if you have a previous deportation on your record. I could also deny your application if you’ve gotten in trouble for not leaving the U.S. within 180 days after a prior nonimmigrant visa expired.
Any past immigration issues may have resulted in an “Unlawful Presence Bar,” which might cause the US government to deny your Family Green Card application. If you’ve ever been “unlawfully present” in the United States (in other words, if you’ve been in the country without a visa or other legal authorization), then you can be temporarily or permanently barred from getting a green card. How long the bar lasts depends on how long you’ve been in the U.S. without legal status, as shown in the table below:
|Length of Unauthorized Presence||Length of Bar|
|At least 180 days, but less than one year at one time||3 years|
|One year or longer at one time||10 years|
|One year or longer in total (combined across all unauthorized trips to the U.S.) AND you try to re-enter the U.S.||Permanently|
There’s also a five-year bar that applies to immigrants who don’t show up at their removal proceedings, among other bars. In some cases, you can apply for a waiver from USCIS if you are subject to an unlawful presence bar. No waiver is available, however, for the five-year bar. If you need to apply for a waiver, it would be a good idea to work with a skilled immigration attorney. You can often find one who can help at little or no cost by using the USA.gov legal aid tool.
Reason 5: The “Public Charge” Rule
One of the main reasons that the U.S. government denies Family Green Card applications in 2020 is the new Public Charge Rule. The Public Charge Rule is a part of U.S. immigration law that allows USCIS to deny immigration applications from any immigrant whom the government believes will be unable to support themselves financially. While the rule does not apply to all types of green card applications, it does apply to Family Green Card applications.
You will need to pass the Public Charge Test to get a Family Green Card. To do this, you will need to fill out some additional paperwork. When you file your Form I-485, you must also file Form I-944, the “Declaration of Self-Sufficiency.” If you’re applying from outside the United States, you must file Form DS-5540, Public Charge Questionnaire, along with your DS-260 application. These two forms collect information about your education, employment history, finances, insurance, and past benefits you may have received. USCIS and the National Visa Center use this information to determine whether you are likely to depend on government benefits in the future. If they believe that you are more likely than not to use public benefits in the future, they will probably reject your application.
The Public Charge Test is a very complex calculation of various factors about your financial history and future ability to work. Many immigrants and even lawyers are confused about calculating Public Charge risk, and this confusion has caused application denials that could probably have been avoided.
Now that you understand five of the most common reasons that the U.S. government denies Family Green Card applications, you can take steps to give your application a better chance for approval.
How long does it take to get a Family Green Card in 2020?
To apply for a Family Green Card, including a Child Green Card, Marriage Green Card, or Parent Green Card, your family member must file Form I-130 with USCIS. Once USCIS approves this petition, you must then file either Form I-485 with USCIS (if you’re in the United States) or Form DS-260 with the State Department’s National Visa Center (if you’re outside the country). How long your Family Green Card application will take depends on when you file, where you file, and your relationship to the US citizen or green card holder who is sponsoring you. We’ll break down how long each part of the application process is likely to take in this section.
How long does it take for USCIS to approve Form I-130?
How long it takes USCIS to approve your I-130 depends on where in the country you apply and what kind of family relationship you apply under. For example, applying in New York can result in a different processing time than applying in California. Applying for your child will likely take less time than applying for your sibling. In some cases, USCIS says it can process I-130 applications in as little as one week. In other cases, such as for the brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, it may take nearly 12 years for USCIS to process your Form I-130. Take a look at the average Form I-130 processing times reported by USCIS in the table below:
I-130 Approval Timeline by Petitioner Type
|Family Relationship||Average Processing Time|
|Permanent resident filing for a spouse or child under 21||7.9 to 11.7 months|
|Permanent resident filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21||24.6 to 33.4 months|
|U.S. citizen filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21||36.5 to 47.4 months|
|U.S. citizen filing for a child under 21 or for a spouse or parent||11.5 to 15 months|
|U.S. citizen filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21||21 to 27.3 months|
|U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sister||45 to 58.5 months|
How long does it take to get your Family Green Card application approved?
If you are applying from inside of the U.S. - 11-26 months
Immigrants applying for Family Green Cards from inside of the United States will use Form I-485 from USCIS to apply. It could take anywhere between 8.5 months to 3 years for USCIS to approve your I-485. The average USCIS center takes between 11 and 26 months to process Form I-485 submissions. To check the latest processing time estimates for the USCIS office handling your case, check out our article on how long immigration applications take.
If you are applying from outside of the U.S. - 4-8 months
Immigrants applying from outside the U.S. will use Form DS-260, which is from the U.S. State Department, not USCIS. As of October 19, 2020, the State Department is processing DS-260s submitted on August 4, 2020, which is about a 2.5 month processing time. Once processed, the State Department will ask you to schedule an interview if they have approved your DS-260. This interview will occur about 1-2 months later.
To check current processing times for Form DS-260, visit the State Department website. Note that USCIS does not process “DS” forms; only the State Department processes these, so the estimated processing time or case status tracker on the USCIS website won’t apply to Form DS-260.
How do I know if my Green Card application has been approved?
If you are applying from inside of the U.S.
Once USCIS approves or denies your Form I-485 Green Card application, they will send a Form I-797 (called a “Notice of Action”) to the mailing address that you listed on your application. This notice will let you know whether your Form I-485 has been approved and will tell you the next steps in your application process. Usually, you will hear back with an interview date in 3-6 months. As discussed above, it can take several months, sometimes over a year, to find out if USCIS has approved your Family Green Card application. You can check your case status online with USCIS. Case processing times may also be affected by the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Information on USCIS’s response to the pandemic is available on their website.
If you are applying from outside of the U.S.
Once the National Visa Center (“NVC”—the part of the U.S. State Department that processes green card applications) processes your Form DS-260, they will send your application packet to the U.S. consulate or embassy that will be handling your case. It usually takes the NVC 1-2 months to process Form DS-260.
The U.S. Consulate or Embassy assigned to your case will contact you roughly 1-2 months later to schedule your Green Card interview, which will usually be 3-6 months after you initially filed Form DS-260. The immigration officer conducting your interview will often decide whether or not to issue you an immigration visa, and thus a green card, at your interview. If not, then you should receive your final answer 1-2 weeks later.
How long after my Green Card application is approved will I have my Green Card interview?
If you are applying from inside of the U.S.
After USCIS approves your Form I-485, The next step is to complete a biometric screening and your green card interview. Generally, approval or denial happens at the time of the interview. To learn more, check out our detailed Family Green Card filing guides.
You will receive a Form I-797c from USCIS 2-3 weeks after you file your application. This form is also called a “Notice of Action” form, and it will tell you that USCIS either wants you to come in for an interview or wants you to send more information. As the agency warns on its website, it’s essential that you read your Form I-797c as soon as you can after you get it in the mail. The interview typically occurs 7-15 months after you file your application. Usually, approval or denial occurs at the time of the interview. If you’re approved, your green card will come in the mail 2-3 weeks later. Congratulations!
If you are applying from outside of the U.S.
The U.S. Consulate or Embassy assigned to your case will contact you to schedule your Green Gard interview. They will usually contact you within 1-2 months of when they receive your application. The interview will usually be 1-2 months later.
The immigration officer conducting your interview will often decide whether or not to issue you an immigration visa, and thus a green card, at your interview. If not, then you should receive your final answer 1-2 weeks later. Once your application is approved, you will be able to get your immigrant visa and enter the United States. You should receive your official Green Card a few weeks later. Congratulations!