One of the most common questions asked by a potential client of our firm is how long their application will take.

While it would be nice to have a crystal ball and be able to predict these things with precision, we typically must rely on a combination of our own recent experience in other cases and the governement’s publication of its standard processing times for particular applications.

We can usually predict with some certainty how long the firs step (the I-130) will take. The USCIS website says they’re currently taking about five months.

But if your spouse is outside the United States, that is only the beginning (and the rest of the process continues to be slow and shrouded in secrecy).

Start with the NVC. An article from Andy Smotiuk in Forbes last week describes the NVC as “the quarterback of the U.S. Consular system” whose job is “to collect all of the paperwork needed to process an application overseas and then to hand it off to a U.S. Consulate for adjudication and approval. This is where things get bogged down.”

Processing at the NVC is a nightmare. It regularly takes them two months just to look at a piece of mail sent, and they rarely respond to urgent e-mails or answer their phone.

A normal, uncomplicated case may take four to six months of waiting at the NVC (that is after the 6 months you spent waiting on the I-130 approval) before the process is completed and the case is ready for an interview. If your case is complicated or it takes a long time to gather the documents they request, then that time can be much longer.

It makes no sense for the USCIS or the National Visa Center to take over a year to decide whether someone can join their spouse in the United States.