The US government is only granting DACA renewals, but you can still submit a new DACA application to hold your place in line.

U.S. Immigration Stats - Family Green Cards

In a Nutshell

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. 

You can find more stats and fact sheets on the immigrant population from the Office of Immigration Statistics and more visa stats from the State Department.

If you are an immigrant ready to apply for a Family Green Card, or a Green Card holder ready to apply for citizenship by naturalization, you can use our free screener to see if you’re eligible to apply. If you are, our system can help you prepare your application paperwork for free.

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

20152016201720182019
Applications785,761934,033854,578819,074659,443

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

2015201620172018
Form I-130 Approvals729,775665,129540,463591,153
Family Green Cards Issued678,978804,794748,746695,524
Total Applications1,786,7662,271,3942,539,5622,739,562
Approval Rate38%35%22%25%

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

20152016201720182019
Denials of I-13071,65659,22856,46154,54281,244
Denials of I-48530,65032,96336,31943,65458,452
Total102,21592,19192,78098,196139,696

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. 

You can determine if your family relationship will allow you to get a Family Green Card with our free screener. If you are not eligible for a Family Green Card, you can use this tool to see if you qualify for any other types of immigration status. If you do, you can use this tool to prepare and file your Family Green Card application for free. 

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.

Immigration paperwork can be tricky. Our free online tool can help you prepare your forms like a pro correctly. Once you finish the forms, 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. Our free screener can help you determine whether you have any inadmissibility issues before you apply.

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.

If you have any issues in your past that you are worried about, it would be a good idea to check your admissibility before you apply. You can use our free screener to find out if you are likely to have any application issues due to your background. If you’re good to go, you can use the same tool to prepare and file your forms quickly and easily.

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 PresenceLength of Bar
At least 180 days, but less than one year at one time3 years
One year or longer at one time10 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. 

Don’t worry, though; we’ve got you covered! You can check how risky your application is with our free Public Charge Risk Estimator. It's nearly impossible to predict how USCIS will implement the Public Charge Rule in a given case, but this tool should give you a clearer picture of how they might implement it in cases like yours.

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. When you’re ready, we can help you prepare your Family Green Card application for free with our simple web application. We’ll guide you through the process from start to finish to help you avoid being denied for one of the reasons above.


Continue reading and learning!

U.S. Immigration Stats - DACA Renewal
By Jonathan Petts
U.S. Immigration Stats - Citizenship by Naturalization
By Jonathan Petts
U.S. Immigration Stats - What is the Current State of Immigration in the United States?
By Jonathan Petts
USCIS Is No Longer Processing New DACA Applications - But You Can Still Apply!
By Jonathan Petts