Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in the U.S. can sponsor their spouse or children to receive an immigrant visa by filing a petition on Form I-130, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That's just the start of the process, though. The amount of time that it takes someone to actually receive an immigrant visa depends on the category of relative and other factors. U.S. immigration law splits up relatives into categories based on two factors: the immigration status of the sponsor and the type of relationship.
For example, a U.S. citizen may sponsor a child (of any age, whether married or not), spouse, sibling, or parent. But an LPR can sponsor only a spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21, or an unmarried child over the age of 21.
For many years, the waiting list for receiving visas for the spouses and unmarried children of LPRs has been long. Since the U.S. government can issue only a set number of visas per year, people in this category (called "F2A") have waited an average of several years after filing the petition.
However, a significant recent change in the waiting list for applications for spouses and children under 21 of permanent residents now means that your application could be processed much faster.
The application process usually goes like this: The U.S. permanent resident files for the relative on Form I-130. Once USCIS approves the petition, it sends it to the National Visa Center (NVC), which is part of the Department of State. After receiving the application, the NVC checks the list to see whether the application is ready to be processed.
The government publishes this list, called the Visa Bulletin, every month on the Department of State website. The list says whether or not a visa is available for each category of applicant, and how long the waiting list is to receive that visa.
The word "visa" in this context just means that the government has a spot available for someone to get permanent residency, whether through an immigrant visa and entry from overseas or by filing for adjustment of status within the United States. This is explained more in How Long Is the Wait for Your Priority Date to Become Current?
The Visa Bulletin can be confusing to read and interpret. The first two charts relate to the processing of family-based immigrant visas. The categories are listed above each chart. As you can see, the F2A category is defined as "Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents." Notice that this applies to spouses and children under the age of 21, since there is a different category for "Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents."
The dates in the first chart are called "final action dates." This means that the government can take action on any petition in which the date USCIS received your petition matches, or is earlier than, the date in the chart. The letter C, meaning current, is used to show that the date of eligibility is right now, for anyone who applied in that category.
Something highly unusual is happening in August of 2019—the priority date for the F2A category of application is listed as current. This means that the government has plenty of visas available for spouses and unmarried children under 21 of permanent residents.
This is good new for everyone in this category, but especially significant for foreign-born relatives of LPRs living in the U.S., lawfully (with some exceptions). They can use a process called "concurrent filing," meaning the U.S. sponsor can file the I-130 petition at the same time as the immigrating family member files a green card application and all supporting documents—and all with a USCIS office in the U.S., through a process called adjustment of status. It would be wise to do so quickly, in case the situation changes.
See When an I-130 Can Be Filed at the Same Time as a Green Card Application for more on how to do this. You might also take a look at Preparing I-130 Petition for the Immigrating Spouse of U.S. Citizen and Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
The "C" notation for F2As is also good news for families who have already filed Form I-130. What you should do to take advantage of this depends upon where the foreign-born family member lives and where your application is in the government process.
First, if the U.S. sponsor has just filed Form I-130, and the immigrating spouse or child is in the U.S. and eligible to adjust status, your family can send the green card application and supporting evidence, along with the receipt notice for the I-130 petition, to USCIS. You might also want to print off the Visa Bulletin from the Department of State website, showing that your category is now eligible for this type of processing because your priority date is current.
Second, if you already have a USCIS-approved I-130, and the immigrating spouse or child is inside the U.S. and adjustment-eligible that person can now file a green card application directly with USCIS, along with a copy of the approval notice.
Third, if you already have an approved I-130, but the immigrating beneficiary is outside of the U.S., you should contact the NVC to ask that it process your application. This is supposed to happen automatically, but contacting the NVC can make sure that it looks at your visa application as soon as possible. You can contact it by using the "Ask NVC" form on its website. Make sure to have your USCIS Receipt Number or NVC Case Number ready.
Concurrently filed applications tend to process very quickly. Most are approved in less than one year. Ordinarily, only immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are able to file concurrent applications, and many spouses and unmarried children under 21 of permanent residents have to wait upwards of two or three years to continue with the green card application process.
The F2A category will probably not stay current for long, meaning that you should consider taking advantage of this opportunity immediately if you are an eligible sponsor or beneficiary.
Effective Date: August 1, 2019