Congratulations! Your I-130 petition has been approved.

Now the question is, “What’s next?”

This article discusses the process for family-based immigration through Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residents or Adjust Status) and Form DS-260 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) after an I-130 petition has been approved.

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Form I-130 of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is used to prove your relationship with an eligible relative who wishes to enter the United States permanently.

Officially called “Petition for Alien Relative,” Form I-130 is the first step in a family member’s immigration process.

It is the first of many steps to obtaining a Permanent Residency Card (also known as a green card).

Form I-130 should only be filed by a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident.

A separate form must be filed for each eligible family member you wish to sponsor.

I-130 Eligibility

Only certain close family members can be sponsored through Form I-130.

If you’re a U.S. citizen, you may sponsor:

  • Spouse;
  • Unmarried children under 21 years of age;
  • Unmarried children over 21;
  • Married children of any age;
  • Brothers or sisters (if the sponsoring citizen is over 21); and
  • Parent (if the sponsoring citizen over 21).

If you’re a lawful permanent resident, you may sponsor:

  • Spouse;
  • Unmarried children under 21; and
  • Unmarried sons or daughters (if the permanent resident is over 21).

How Long Does It Take for Approval?

How long it takes USCIS to approve an I-130 petition depends on the following factors:

  • Whether your sponsored relative fits into the Immediate Relative Category or Family Preference Category, as defined by the USCIS;
  • Whether your sponsored relative is currently living inside the United States or abroad; and
  • Which USCIS office is processing your application.

It usually takes between five and 12 months for approval for applications sponsoring family members that fit into the Immediate Relative Category who currently live in the United States.

It may take several years for approval for applications sponsoring family members that fit into the Family Preference Category who currently live outside the United States.

Form I-130 Processing Time

Form typeApplication centerProcessing time
U.S. citizen filing for a spouse, parent, or child under 21Nebraska Service Center12.5 Months to 16 Months
Potomac Service Center7 Months to 9 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center17.5 Months to 22.5 Months
Permanent resident filing for a spouse or child under 21California Service Center8.5 Months to 11 Months
Nebraska Service Center20.5 Months to 26.5 Months
Potomac Service Center1 Week to 7 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center17 Months to 22.5 Months
U.S. citizen filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21California Service Center56.5 Months to 73.5 Months
Nebraska Service Center12.5 Months to 16 Months
Potomac Service Center7 Months to 9 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center58.5 Months to 76 Months
Permanent resident filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21California Service Center53.5 Months to 69.5 Months
Nebraska Service Center20.5 Months to 26.5 Months
Potomac Service Center1 Week to 7 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center56.5 Months to 73.5 Months
U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21California Service Center92.5 Months to 120 Months
Nebraska Service Center12.5 Months to 16 Months
Potomac Service Center7 Months to 9 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center88 Months to 114 Months
U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sisterCalifornia Service Center104.5 Months to 136 Months
Nebraska Service Center12.5 Months to 16 Months
Potomac Service Center7 Months to 9 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center99 Months to 129 Months

What Happens After I-130 is Approved?

Once USCIS approves your I-130 application, your application will be sent to the U.S. Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) for processing.

If your family member’s case is not subject to immediate processing, your I-130 application will remain with NVC until processing begins.

You and your sponsored family member will be sent a notice of how to check the status and manage your case through the NVC’s Consumer Electronics Application Center (CEAC).

How your case is processed depends upon:

  • Whether you fit within the Immediate Relative Category or Family Preference Category; and
  • Whether you are currently in the United States or abroad.

Immediate Relative or Family Preference Category

The U.S. immigration system divides persons seeking family-based immigration into two categories: Immediate Relative and Family Preference.

These categories define the relationship between you and your family member and sets the priority in issuing green cards.

Individuals in the Immediate Relative Category do not have to wait for a visa to become available, because there is an unlimited number of visas available to this group.

However, there are only a limited number of visas available for individuals in the Family Preference Category.

Individuals in this category often wait from 6 months to 20 years for a visa to become available.

You will be placed in the Immediate Relative Category if you are:

  • A spouse of a U.S. citizen;
  • An unmarried child of a U.S. citizen under 21 years of age;
  • An orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen;
  • An orphan adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen; or
  • A parent of a U.S. citizen over 21.

You will be placed in the Family Preference Category if you are:

  • An unmarried child of a U.S. citizen over 21;
  • A spouse of a lawful permanent resident;
  • An unmarried child of a lawful permanent resident under 21;
  • An unmarried child of a lawful permanent resident over 21;
  • A married child of a U.S. citizen any age; or
  • A brother or sister if a U.S. citizen (if the citizen is over 21).

Based on your category and location, your visa application will proceed by Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing.

Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of status is reserved for persons currently in the United States.

Thus, you would not have to return to your home country to complete the visa process.

Form I-485

To adjust your status, you must file USCIS Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residents or Adjust Status).

Each beneficiary of an I-130 petition must submit their own I-485 form.

I-485 Fees

As of February 2020, the fees required under Form I-485 are dependent upon your age, whether you are required to undergo biometric identification, and the basis of your application:

  • If under 14 years old and filing with at least one parent, the total fee is $750;
  • If under 14 and not filing with at least one parent, the total fee is $1,140;
  • If between 14 and 78, the total fee is $1,225; and
  • If over 78, the total fee is $1,140.

These fees are nonrefundable regardless of the outcome of your I-485 application and are subject to change.

After I-130 is Approved, How Long Does it Take?

After your sponsor’s I-130 application is approved, the time it takes to approve your I-485 application is influenced by several factors:

  • Whether your application is based on the Immediate Relative or Family Preference Category;
  • Whether your sponsored relative lives in the U.S. or abroad;
  • Whether you mailed or hand-delivered your application to a USCIS office, U.S. Embassy or Consultant, or file online with SelfLawyer; and
  • Whether there are errors in the application itself.

Usually, an I-485 application gets approved or denied within 8 to 14 months.

Steps of an I-485 Application

The steps and timeframe for an I-485 application generally occur as the following order:

  • Notice that an I-485 application was received (2 to 3 weeks);
  • Notice of biometrics appointment (3 to 5 weeks);
  • Biometrics appointment (5 to 8 weeks);
  • Notice that USCIS interview has been scheduled (4 to 10 months);
  • USCIS interview (6 to 12 months);
  • Notice of final decision (8 to 14 months).

When to File I-485 Application

In most cases, you must wait until I-130 approval before filing an I-485 application. However, there are two exceptions to this rule:

  • Current filing is allowed for all immediate relatives of U.S. citizens because there is an unlimited number of visas for this group; and
  • Concurrent filing is allowed if a visa number is available for an I-485 applicant during the filing time of the sponsored I-130 petition.

Medical Examination and Vaccination – Form I-693

Medical examination and vaccination are common for anyone who seeks permanent resident status through Form I-485. These exams are referred to as immigration exams or I-693 exams.

If the USCIS instructs you to undergo an immigration medical examination it is your responsibility to find a USCIS certified doctor (called a “civil surgeon” by USCIS).

The USCIS does not regulate fees for medical exams and fees vary depending on your location.

You can find a USCIS doctor in your area through the USCIS website here: https://my.uscis.gov/findadoctor

Any medical exam USCIS orders are valid for 60 days.

To assure your exam is valid, be sure to schedule your appointment as close as possible to the date you file your underlying I-485 application, USCIS’s Request for Evidence, or your USCIS interview (whichever is applicable).

Be sure to allow enough time for the completion of all lab work or additional testing ordered by the doctor.

The purpose of an I-693 exam is to verify your mental and physical health to determine if you are cleared to stay in the United States.

During this examination, the doctor will take a detailed history from you, perform a physical examination, draw blood, or order other tests.

Prior to your medical appointment print a copy of Form I-693 from the USCIS’s website and follow the instructions carefully.

Form I-693 and instructions can be found here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-693

The USCIS Interview

Under federal regulation, all adjustment of status applicants must be interviewed unless waived by a USCIS officer.

This waiver is made on a case-by-case basis. An interview may (but not necessarily) be waived if:

  • An applicant us clearly ineligible;
  • Unmarried children (under 21) if they filed their application on their own;
  • Parents of U.S. citizens;
  • Asylees and refugees if they underwent a precious USCIS interview; and
  • Unmarried children (under 14) if they filed their application of their own.

If USCIS requires you to be interviewed, USCIS will instruct you on what to bring, be prepared to bring the following:

  • Government-issued photo ID (state drivers license, passport, etc.);
  • Notice of I-485 interview issued by USCIS on Form I-797C (Notice of Action);
  • I-485 packet (I-485 application and any other form or filed document);
  • Current, non-expired passport;
  • All travel documents (only if you have traveled abroad after filing your I-485 application);
  • Doctor’s report of medical examination on Form I-693 (if you haven’t submitted it earlier); and
  • If your application is based on marriage, originals and copies of documents showing a shared life (joint bank statements, joint lease or mortgage, joint credit card statements, child’s birth certificate, etc.).

A typical interview lasts about 30 minutes.

During the interview, the USCIS officer will look for information regarding any life-changing events (new child, new employer, new address, anything that would change any answer submitted in the I-485 application).

For the most part, the officer will ask questions about the application and ask for verification of certain answers.

Notice of Approval, What Now?

When you receive notice that your I-485 application has been approved, it means you are officially a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Congratulations!

Until your green card arrives in the mail, your passport may be stamped by USCIS to indicate your new status.

This stamp has the same authority as a green card. You can use this stamp to:

  • Apply for an unrestricted social security card;
  • Apply for a state drivers license; and
  • Travel abroad for less than one year.

Consular Processing

If you’re living outside the United States, once you become the beneficiary of a sponsored I-130 petition you can apply for lawful permanent resident status (a green card) through the process called consular processing.

Form DS-260

To obtain a green card through consular processing, you must file Form DS-260 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) with the NVC through NVC’s online Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).

In most cases, you will also have to file Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support).

Form I-864 is a legal contract between you and your I-130 sponsor in which your sponsor promises to support you after you immigrate if it is necessary.

Submitting Form DS-260 does not start the visa application.

Your visa application officially starts when you are interviewed by a U.S. consular officer.

DS-260 Fees 

The fees associated with consular processing are:

These fees are subject to change.

Consular Processing Steps

The steps associated with obtaining a visa through consular processing occur in the following order:

  • File Form DS-260 and Form I-864 to NVC for processing;
  • Pay all applicable fees;
  • Submit all supporting documents;
  • Be interviewed by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate officer; then
  • Be granted (or denied) a green card.

U.S. Embassy or Consulate Interview

On a scheduled date, you will be called to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for an interview.

During this interview, a consular officer will determine whether or not an immigration visa will be issued to you.

You, and all immediate family beneficiaries immigrating with you, must attend the interview.

Be prepared to bring the following:

  • The interview appointment received from NVC;
  • For each individual immigrating with you, a passport valid for six months past the expected immigration date;
  • Two identical color photographs for each individual immigrating;
  • The DS-260 cover page; and
  • The original and two copies of all documents uploaded to CEAC.

Notice of Approval, What Now

If your visa is approved, you will receive notice of when and how your passport will be returned to you.

Your immigration visa will be stamped on a page in your passport.

You will have six months to immigrate to the United States.

Family Preference Outside the United States

The two main categories of family-based immigration described above (Immediate Relative and Family Preference) define the type of relationship between you and your family sponsor and set the priority of all available green cards.

Family Preference Priorities

As opposed to Immediate Relative Category where visas are unlimited, federal law sets limits on visas awarded to individuals grouped in the Family Preference Category.

This Family Preference Category includes relatives with a more distinctive relationship to the sponsored family member.

The Family Preference Category includes and is ranked in immigration priority as follows:

  • First Preference: Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their minor children (23,400 visas allowed);
  • Second Preference: Spouses and unmarried children under 21 and unmarried adult children over 21 of permanent residents (114,200 visas allowed with 70% or more going to spouses with children under 21);
  • Third Preference: Married children regardless of age, as well as spouses with minor children of U.S. citizens (23,400 visas allowed); and
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters, their spouses, and minor children of adult U.S. citizens (65,000 visas allowed).

Absent from this Family Preference Category are grandparents, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws.

These family members cannot be directly petitioned for family-based immigration.

For these family members to immigrate through the Family Preference Category, the family member must meet the same requirements as immigrating through the Immediate Relatives Category, but must document a qualifying Family Preference relationship, instead of an Immediate Relative relationship.

Checking Waiting Times Using Visa Bulletin

Visa Bulletin is a web-based publication that provides an updated waiting list (also known as Priority Date) for immigrants awaiting visas who are subject to the U.S. visas quota system. 

Visa Bulletin is published on the Internet by the United States State Department and updated the second or third week of every month.

In the Bulletin, immigrants are categorized as on a waiting list (Family Preference) and not requiring a waiting list (Immediate Relative).

For those immigrants on a waiting list, a certain number of visas become available every month.

If the number of applicants in a given year exceeds the number of available visas, visa applicants are placed in a queue and receive a priority date.

Basically, this estimates when an applicant would receive a visa based on the number of previous applicants in the queue.

The Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication that provides updated monthly numbers of the list of applicants and the “current” priority date for those applicants.

You can find the Visa Bulletin on the State Department’s website at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin.html

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