Family-Based Green Card Application

Family Based Green CardThe steps to obtain a family-based green card — officially known as a permanent resident card — vary based on the qualifying family relationship and where you live (inside the United States or outside).

If you would like to petition (sponsor) a family member for a green card or you are a foreign national that wants to permanently move to the United States, this article provides a basic overview of the eligibility categories and family-based green card process.

Family-Based Green Card Categories

It’s helpful to understand that not all green card applications are treated the same way. Most categories must wait for a long period – this is because most categories have a limited number of immigrant visas (green cards) available each year. So typically, “family preference” categories must wait in line for a green card. On the other hand, “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens have an unlimited supply of green cards – there is no wait.

Here’s how each category is divided. The immediate relative category for family-based green cards includes:

  • IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. citizen
  • IR-2: Unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen
  • IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen
  • IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
  • IR-5: Parent of a U.S. citizen (petitioner must be at least 21 years old)

The family preference category for family-based green cards includes:

  • F-1 (Family First Preference): Unmarried sons and daughters of a U.S. citizen, and their minor children, if any
  • F-2 (Family Second Preference): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of a lawful permanent residents
  • F-3 (Family Third Preference): Married sons and daughters of a U.S. citizen, and their spouses and minor children
  • F-4 (Family Fourth Preference): Brothers and sisters of a U.S. citizen, and their spouses and minor children (petitioner must be at least 21 years old)

Green Card for Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens

The immediate relative category is for certain qualified relatives of U.S. citizens to come and live permanently in the United States. Eligible immediate relatives include the U.S. citizen’s:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried child under the age of 21
  • Parent (if the U.S. citizen is over the age of 21)

Because there are an unlimited number of visas for this category, immediate relatives have special immigration priority and do not have to wait in line for a visa number to become available.

Before a U.S. citizen petitions an unmarried child for a green card, it’s important to understand how marriage affects the immigration process. If an immediate relative child under age 21 gets married, he or she can no longer be classified as an immediate relative and will become a “third preference” (F-3) category married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and a visa would no longer be immediately available.

Green Card for Other Family Members of U.S. Citizens

Family members of U.S. citizens that do not qualify as immediate relatives may fall into another category called the family preference category. Family preference relatives that may be eligible include the U.S. citizen’s:

  • Unmarried sons or daughters over the age of 21
  • Married child(ren) of any age
  • Brothers and sisters (if the U.S. citizen petitioner is over the age of 21)

There is a strict cap on the number of family preference green cards that are issued each year. Thus, family preference green cards generally involve a wait period. Additionally, there are annual per-country limits that cap the percentage of immigrant visas that can be given to individuals from each country. As a result, individuals from countries with high rates of U.S. immigration, such as India, China, Mexico and the Philippines, often experience longer wait times for green cards than individuals from countries with lower rates of U.S. immigration.

Green Card for Family Members of a Permanent Resident

All eligible family members of a permanent resident are put into the family preference category. A permanent resident is not able to petition parents, siblings, or married children. A permanent resident may only petition:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried child (any age)

Again, there is a strict cap on the number of family preference green cards that are issued each year. Thus, family preference green cards generally involve a wait period. Additionally, there are annual per-country limits that cap the percentage of immigrant visas that can be given to individuals from each country. As a result, individuals from countries with high rates of U.S. immigration, such as India, China, Mexico and the Philippines, often experience longer wait times for green cards than individuals from countries with lower rates of U.S. immigration.

Get Priority — Become a Citizen

A permanent resident can sometimes upgrade the I-130 petition and expedite the process by becoming a U.S. citizen. Once the petitioner becomes a U.S. citizen, the priority will improve. For example, a spouse’s category will improve from F-2 to IR-1 when the permanent resident becomes a U.S. citizen. A green card is immediately available for an IR-1 spouse.

Unmarried Sons and Daughters

Unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents need to be aware of how marriage affects their ability to immigrate to the United States. If an unmarried son or daughter of a permanent resident gets married prior to becoming a permanent resident, he or she no longer qualifies for permanent residence through the permanent resident family member. There is no visa category for a married child of a permanent resident.

How to Apply for a Green Card

Once immigration officials approve the I-130 petition and/or an immigrant visa is immediately available, there are two basic ways to apply for a family-based green card: adjustment of status or consular process.

Adjustment of Status

The adjustment of status path can only be used by certain immigrants that are already in the United States. Generally, this is limited to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens that are in the United States on a valid nonimmigrant visa and entered through lawful means. For example, a foreign student from Colombia and U.S. citizen get married. The Colombian spouse can immediately adjust status (provided that he/she is still in valid status with the student visa). Or, the Chinese parent(s) of a U.S. citizen with a tourist visa is visiting a son in the United States and make the decision to relocate to the U.S. permanently. The parent can adjust status to a permanent resident (green card holder).

Adjustment of Status Forms

An adjustment of status application package involves several forms that are “filed concurrently” with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In other words, the following forms are submitted together in one package:

Although the alien petition may be filed first, most people choose to concurrently file the forms (file both at the same time) to expedite the process. The petitioner prepare Form I-130, and the green card applicant prepares Form I-485. Form I-130 establishes that the petitioner has a valid, eligible relationship with the new immigrant. It also requests that a green card be reserved for the immigrant. Form I-485 is a request for USCIS to adjust the applicant’s temporary nonimmigrant visa to a permanent immigrant visa (green card). For more information, read about green card through adjustment of status.

A Word of Caution
When United States grants a foreign national a visitor visa or some other nonimmigrant visa, it does so with the promise that you intend to return to the place of origin. If, however, you use a nonimmigrant visa as a way of gaining U.S. entry with the actual goal of adjusting status, the U.S. government considers this visa abuse. In this circumstance, the government is likely to deny a green card application based on the misuse of the nonimmigrant visa. It can also lead to long-term immigration problems.

You should not travel to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa with the intention of filing Form I-485. This is considered a misuse of the visa and the family-based green card application will most likely be denied.

 

Consular Processing

The consular processing path can be used by immigrants that are inside or outside the United States. Consular processing is the process used when an immigrant applies for a family-based green card through the U.S. embassy or consular offices in a foreign country.

application for family based green card

In most cases, a family preference applicant will use consular processing because of the wait. For example, a foreign student from Colombia and U.S. permanent resident get married. Once the foreign student’s visa expires, he or she must leave the United States if the green card is not yet available. The foreign spouse must wait outside the U.S. until the green card is available and then apply through the U.S. consular offices in Colombia. Or, the Chinese brother of a U.S. citizen with a tourist visa is visiting in the United States and makes the decision to relocate to the U.S. permanently. The brother will most likely have to return to China when the tourist visa expires. Staying beyond the expiration date will most likely result in the denial of a green card and create significant immigration problems in the future.

Consular Processing Forms

Consular processing also requires two major forms and several other related forms that must be filed with USCIS:

First, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident must prepare and file the Form I-130 (and Form I-130A if applicable). It establishes that the petitioner has a valid, eligible relationship with the intending immigrant. Once the petition is approved and the green card is available, the immigrant can file the DS-260 (immigrant visa application), affidavit of support, and other paperwork at the local U.S. embassy or consular offices.

This is a simplified overview of the processes to obtain a green card through family. In actuality, additional steps and several other forms will be required. These steps and forms can vary based on the qualifying family relationship mentioned above the path taken to obtain the green card. For more information about green card wait times and trade offs of the two paths, go to Consular Processing vs Adjustment of Status.

Family-Based Green Card Processing Times

Under the current U.S. immigration law, Congress limits the number of family preference green cards that may be granted each year. Thus, the annual quota (numerical limit) on each category combined with limits for each country, can create very significant waits for some categories.

Category Eligibility Annual Quota Estimated Wait Time
IR Immediate Relative: Spouse, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens No numerical limit None1
F1 Family Preference: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of U.S. citizens 23,400 1-2 years2
F2 Family Preference: Spouse and minor children (under 21 years old) of lawful permanent residents 114,200
F2A: Spouse and minor children (under 21 years old) 4 years
F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 or older) 6 years
F3 Family Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens 23,400 3-4 years2
F4 Family Preference: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens 65,000 10 years3

1There is no quota for the immediate relative visa category, but the Form I-130 may take several months (6-12 months) before approval.
2Some countries have longer wait times such as Mexico (5 years) and Philippines (11 years).
3Wait time for Philippines is approximately 19 years.

The Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is processed on a first-come, first-served basis. So it is important to get onto this wait list early. It is extremely important that the petitioner file a well-prepared Form I-130 package that is free of errors and inconsistencies.

Costs of Green Card Through Family

Government fees can vary significantly for a family-based green card. For example, at the time of writing this article, the adjustment of status path should be expected to cost about $1,760. The consular processing is generally a little less expensive and may cost over $1,200. See this cost comparison.

family-based green card process

However, the above fees do not include other expenses which you may incur in the process. Medical examinations and required vaccinations may cost additional. Other costs may include: translations; photocopying charges; fees for obtaining the documents you need for the immigrant visa application (such as passport, police certificates, birth certificates, etc.); and expenses for travel to the U.S. embassy or consulate for your visa interview.

What’s more, legal fees may be significant. If the petitioner or beneficiary of the green card have ever had previous immigration violations or an arrest record, it’s highly advisable to use the services of an experienced immigration lawyer. Applicants with straight-forward cases can use the services of CitizenPath.

About CitizenPath

CitizenPath provides simple, affordable, step-by-step guidance through USCIS immigration applications. Individuals, attorneys and non-profits use the service on desktop or mobile device to prepare immigration forms accurately, avoiding costly delays. CitizenPath allows users to try the service for free and provides a 100% money-back guarantee that USCIS will accept the application or petition. We provide support for the Adjustment of Status Application (Form I-485), Petition to Help a Relative Obtain a Green Card (Form I-130), and several other USCIS forms.

Source: USCIS