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What is the fastest you can get a green card?

Getting a green card allows you to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. There are several different paths to obtaining a green card, but some are faster than others. The fastest options are typically through employment, investment, or family relationships with US citizens or green card holders.

Employment-Based Green Cards

One of the quickest ways to get a green card is through employment. If you have skills that are in demand in the US, an employer may sponsor you for permanent residency. There are five employment-based green card preferences:

  1. Priority Workers – For people of extraordinary ability in science, arts, education, business, or athletics. Also includes outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers.
  2. Members of Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability – For people with advanced degrees or exceptional ability in sciences, arts, or business.
  3. Skilled Workers and Professionals – For people with bachelor’s degrees or higher, or who have substantial work experience and skills.
  4. Special Immigrants – For certain religious workers, employees of US foreign service posts, former US government employees and broadcasters, Afghanistan or Iraq nationals who supported the US, and others.
  5. Investors – For people who invest $500,000 to $1 million in a new commercial enterprise that creates at least 10 full-time jobs.

The fastest employment-based green cards are granted in the first preference category to priority workers. If you have extraordinary abilities and are sponsored by an employer, you may be eligible for a green card in less than 1 year. The other employment-based categories can take 2-3 years for green card processing.

EB-1 Green Cards for Priority Workers

To qualify for an EB-1 green card, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.
  • Be an outstanding professor or researcher with at least 3 years experience in teaching or research, and international recognition in the field.
  • Be a multinational executive or manager who has worked for a US affiliate, subsidiary, or office of a foreign company for at least 1 year in the 3 years prior to applying.

Evidence of extraordinary abilities can include major awards, published material about your achievements, high salary, membership in associations requiring outstanding achievements, and more.

The EB-1 category does not require an employer sponsor or labor certification, which speeds up the process. Green cards can be obtained in this category in 6-12 months.

EB-2 Green Cards for Advanced Degree Holders

To qualify for an EB-2 green card, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Hold an advanced degree or possess exceptional ability in sciences, arts, or business
  • Have an employer sponsor you for the green card petition
  • Obtain a labor certification to prove there are no qualified US workers available for the job.

Advanced degrees include master’s degrees and higher. Exceptional abilities can be demonstrated with evidence similar to the EB-1 category.

The EB-2 category requires more steps than EB-1, including the employer sponsorship and labor certification. As a result, processing times are longer at approximately 2-3 years. However, it is still one of the fastest options for employment-based green cards.

EB-3 Green Cards for Professionals or Skilled Workers

To qualify for an EB-3 green card, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Hold a position that requires at least 2 years of training or experience
  • Have an employer sponsor you for the green card petition
  • Obtain a labor certification

This category is for professionals with bachelor’s degrees, or skilled workers in fields requiring substantial training and experience. Examples include teachers, accountants, computer programmers, doctors, therapists, electricians, and more.

The EB-3 category has longer processing times of approximately 2-3 years because of the extra steps required. But it remains a viable green card option for many foreign professionals and workers.

EB-4 Green Cards for Special Immigrants

The EB-4 category is for special immigrants including:

  • Religious workers
  • Employees of US foreign service posts for 15 years or more
  • Former US government employees who served honorably
  • Broadcasters or journalists for US affiliate of foreign news organizations
  • Afghanistan or Iraq nationals who supported the US
  • International organization employees who have lived and worked in the US for 15 years or more
  • Physicians under certain exchange programs

Processing times in the EB-4 category can be quite fast compared to other employment-based green cards, especially for religious workers. I-360 petitions for special immigrants are typically processed in less than 6 months.

EB-5 Green Cards for Investors

The EB-5 category offers green cards to immigrant investors who:

  • Invest $500,000 to $1 million in a new commercial enterprise in the US
  • Plan to create at least 10 full-time jobs through the investment

Processing times for EB-5 green cards can be 2 years or longer. There is also uncertainty about the continuation of the EB-5 program. But for investors with the capital to invest, it remains an avenue to obtain a green card more quickly than other visa categories.

Family-Based Green Cards

If you have an immediate relative who is a US citizen, you may qualify for one of the fastest green cards through family reunification. Immediate relatives include:

  • Spouses of US citizens
  • Unmarried children under 21 of US citizens
  • Parents of adult US citizens

There is no annual numerical limit on the number of green cards issued to immediate relatives of US citizens. As a result, processing times can be faster compared to other family-based preference categories. Here is an overview of the processing times for family green cards:

Green Cards for Immediate Relatives

US citizens can petition for green cards for their spouses, minor children, and parents. Processing times are around 12-15 months. These include:

  • Spouses – The US citizen submits Form I-130, then their spouse submits Form I-485 to adjust status when a visa number is available immediately. Takes 12-15 months.
  • Minor children – The process is the same as for spouses. Takes 12-15 months.
  • Parents – US citizens submit Form I-130, then parents submit Form I-485 for adjustment of status when visa numbers are current. Takes 12-15 months.

Immediate relatives get green cards faster than other family categories because there are no annual limits on the number issued.

Green Cards for Other Family Relationships

Beyond immediate relatives, US citizens and permanent residents can sponsor other family relationships for green cards, subject to annual limits:

  • Unmarried adult children – US citizens submit Form I-130, take 2-7 years for green card.
  • Married children – US citizens submit Form I-130, takes 9+ years for green card.
  • Siblings – US citizens submit Form I-130, takes 13+ years for green card.
  • Spouses and children of permanent residents – Permanent residents submit Form I-130, takes 2-3 years for green card.

These family-based categories can take many years for green card processing due to backlogs and annual visa limits. But they provide avenues for many foreigners to eventually obtain permanent residency.

Refugee or Asylee Status

Refugees and asylees receive protection in the United States and are eligible for green cards 1 year after being granted status. Here is an overview of each program:

Refugee Program

The US Refugee Admissions Program offers resettlement for people fleeing persecution who meet the definition of a refugee. Refugees apply from abroad and go through extensive vetting and interviews. If approved, refugees are allowed to live in the US.

After 1 year in refugee status, they are eligible to apply for a green card. Processing only takes a few months since they are already in the US. Family members abroad can be processed for green cards as well.

Asylum Program

Asylum seekers request protection after arriving to the US, or at a port of entry. They must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. If asylum is granted, they can remain in the US and apply for a green card after 1 year.

Since asylees are already in the US, they can typically adjust status within 6 months of becoming eligible. Their spouses and children may also qualify for green cards.

Refugee and asylee status offer faster paths to permanent residency than most other categories. Processing only takes 12-18 months total, since no visas are required. It provides protection for those fleeing persecution.

Diversity Visa Lottery

The diversity visa lottery, or green card lottery, offers green cards through random selection. It’s open to nationals of countries with low immigration rates to the US. Requirements include:

  • Complete high school or 2 years work experience
  • Be from an eligible country

If selected, diversity visa winners complete processing and are granted green cards. The visa lottery occurs annually for 50,000 green cards. While winning is uncertain, it’s a fast process of 12-18 months for selected applicants.

Other Special Categories

There are a few other special cases that can receive green cards quickly, including:

  • Cuban Adjustment Act – Cuban nationals are eligible for green cards after 1 year in the US.
  • Amerasians – Children of US citizens born in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand between 1950-1982.
  • US nationals – People from American Samoa, Swains Island, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Those who qualify under these special acts can obtain green cards in less than 1 year. Their unique circumstances allow fast-tracking immigration status.


In summary, here are some of the fastest options for getting a green card:

  • EB-1 green cards for priority workers – 12 months
  • EB-2 green cards for advanced degree holders – 2-3 years
  • EB-5 green cards for investors – 2+ years
  • Green cards for immediate relatives – 12-15 months
  • Refugee/asylee status – 12-18 months
  • Diversity visa lottery – 12-18 months if selected

Employment-based and family-based green cards provide the most common paths to permanent residency. Investment, refugee/asylum status, and other special cases also allow faster processing.

Overall, the fastest green cards take 1-2 years. But many factors affect timelines, so work with an experienced immigration attorney to identify the best options based on your unique situation.