As a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, you can help a relative get a green card. The green card, formally known as a permanent resident card, is the tangible proof that a person may permanently live and work in the U.S. as a permanent resident.
To help a relative get a green card, you need to sponsor your relative and be able to prove that you have enough income or assets to support your relative(s) when they come to the United States.
The process begins by filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Specifically, the form establishes the eligible family relationship that exists between you and your relative and initiates the request for a visa number.
Relatives Eligible to Get a Green Card
Form I-130 establishes the family relationship that exists between you and your relative, but not any relative is eligible. Only certain relatives are eligible. And depending on the relationship, it will affect the wait time. Before you help a relative get a green card, it’s important to understand the difference between the Immediate Relative and Family Preference categories for obtaining an immigrant visa (green card).
The term “immediate relative(s)” is used to define certain immigrant relatives of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives include:
- Spouses of U.S. citizens
- Children (unmarried and under 21) of U.S. citizens
- Parents of U.S. citizens
Preference categories apply to family members who are not immediate relatives. The visas allotted for these categories are subject to annual numerical limits. A visa becomes available to a preference category based on the priority date (the date the Form I-130 was filed). Preference categories are grouped as follows:
- First preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters (age 21 or over) of U.S. citizens
- Second Preference (2A): Spouses of green card holders, unmarried children (under 21) of permanent residents
- Second Preference (2B): Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents
- Third Preference: Married sons and daughters (any age) of U.S. citizens
- Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens
Your Relative’s Family
Generally, your relative’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age can be covered on the same Form I-130 petition. When your relative’s visa number becomes current, his or her spouse and children can get a green card at the same time.
Example: You file a Form I-130 petition for your married daughter. You can’t file a petition for her husband and children because there is no eligible relationship for a son-in-law or grandchild. However, when your daughter’s place in line allows her to apply for an immigrant visa, her husband and children can apply for immigrant visas at the same time with your daughter.
However, as a U.S. citizen, you must file a separate petition for each one of your direct relatives, including your own children (or step children). If you are petitioning a spouse, you must petition each of your spouse’s unmarried children under 18 years of age (your step children) with a separate Form I-130 petition.
Example: You marry someone with a child. The child will generally qualify as your stepchild if he or she was unmarried and under 18 years of age at the time of your marriage. In this example, you are required to file two I-130 petitions: one petition for your spouse and another for the stepchild.
Your Relative’s Wait to Get a Green Card
The immigrant visa category (immediate relative or family preference) will have a significant affect on the time your relative must wait to get a green card. Immigration law gives special consideration to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, which includes a U.S. citizen’s spouse, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents.
- There is no waiting list to immigrate these relatives.
- The U.S. Department of State will invite them to apply for an immigrant visa as soon as USCIS approves your I-130 petition.
- If your petition has been approved, and your relatives are currently in the United States after making a legal entry (and they meet other requirements), they may be able to file applications with USCIS to adjust to permanent resident status.
For family preference relatives, the combination of high demand and the limits set by law on how many people can immigrate each year means your relative may have to wait several years in line while petitions that were filed before theirs are processed. When your relative reaches the front of the line, the U.S. Department of State contacts your relative and invites him or her to apply for an immigrant visa.
During the Wait to Get a Green Card
Filing an I-130 petition does not allow your relative to come to the United States while waiting for an approval. The I-130 petition only establishes your relationship with your relative. Typically, your relative must continue to wait outside the United States to immigrate legally.
However, if your relative legally entered the U.S and is currently present with a non-immigrant visa (i.e. student, tourist, employee), he or she may stay in the U.S. only while that visa is valid. Your immigrant should depart the U.S. before the visa expires.
If your family member is an immediate relative (spouse, unmarried child under 21 years, or parent) and is already in the United States after having entered legally, they can apply to adjust their status to permanent resident at the same time you file their I-130 petition.
CitizenPath is an online immigration resource that provides simple, step-by-step guidance through USCIS applications and petitions. Our low-cost service helps to simplify the process by explaining each question and providing alerts if your answer to a question could be a problem. Most people do not need a lawyer to prepare USCIS forms, but many need a little assistance. That’s where CitizenPath can help. CitizenPath provides support for Petitioning for a Relative’s Green Card (Form I-130), the Citizenship Application (Form N-400), and several other popular forms.