How to Apply for a Family Based Green Card

Bringing U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to the United States together with their overseas family members is important and often obtainable. However, there are strict guidelines in place that outline which family members may be eligible for green cards and which face certain limitations due to U.S. laws. The Immigration and Nationality Act limits the number of family-based green cards that can be granted each year to foreign nationals. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) helps determine who is eligible for a family based green card through a series of criteria.

Who is Eligible For a Family Based Green Card?

If you are a permanent resident or green card holder, you may petition to have certain family members join you in the U.S. as permanent residents. However, you are limited in the family members that can immigrate to the U.S. with a family-based green card. The only family members a permanent resident may petition to bring to the U.S. are your spouse (husband or wife), any unmarried children under 21 years of age, or an unmarried son or daughter of any age.

A family based green card may also be issued to other immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, such as parents of U.S. citizens, stepchildren or stepparents if the marriage creating the relationship took place before the child’s 18th birthday, or children or parents through adoption. In some instances, a fiancé of a U.S. citizen may be eligible for a family based green card. However, the overseas fiancé must first apply for a 90-day temporary U.S. visa, known as a K-1 fiancé visa.

Other lower-preference relatives may be found eligible for a green card, but as there are a limited number and immediate relatives are given priority, many applicants must wait years. In addition, the U.S. family member must not only petition for but financially sponsor the immigrant before applying for a green card.

The Application Process For Families

an individual filing a family based green card petition
  1. File Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. The approval of this petition will not give your relative any status in the U.S. but it is the first step in helping a relative immigrate to the U.S. Once the petition is approved, your relative can apply to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) when there is a visa available.
  2. Provide proof that you are a permanent resident in the U.S.
  3. Submit evidence that shows you have a qualifying relationship with the relative that you are petitioning for. Accepted evidence could be a marriage certificate, birth certificate, or similar document.
  4. Provide proof of any legal name change for either you or your family member.

There are two primary paths that can be taken when applying for a family based green card. Consular processing is the first and allows foreign relatives to apply for a green card through the U.S. embassy or consular office in a foreign country. This is the most common option for obtaining a green card.

A second option is known as adjustment of status. If an immigrant is also in the U.S. as a temporary visitor, such as a tourist or student, he or she may be able to adjust their status to permanent resident. However, this type of status change is only available to a small selection of applicants.

Family Based Green Card Preference Categories

When you petition for a relative for a family based green card, there are certain preference categories that may apply. These include:

  • First Preference: This refers to unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who are 21 years of age or older.
  • Second Preference (2A): This refers to unmarried children of permanent residents who are under 21 years of age, as well as spouses of green card holders.
  • Second Preference (2B): This refers to unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents who are 21 years of age or older.
  • Third Preference: This refers to married sons and daughters of any age who are children of U.S. citizens.
  • Fourth Preference: This refers to sisters and brothers of adult U.S. citizens.

What Happens After the Application Process is Completed?

a family walking on the beach after securing family based green cardsOnce the application process is complete, your relative’s preference category will indicate how long he or she must wait to receive an immigrant visa. You can easily check the status of your case online.

If your relative is located outside the U.S., your petition will be sent to the National Visa Center which is then sent to a U.S. consulate when a visa becomes available. If your relative is currently in the U.S. legally, they can choose to adjust their status for permanent residency.

Learn More About the Family Based Green Card Process

Applying for a family based green card can be a complex process that involves a series of steps. For more information about this process or to schedule an appointment to receive legal advice about immigration, reach out to Johnson and Masumi. Johnson and Masumi can help you navigate the immigration process and file any paperwork on your behalf.

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