You may be qualified for a family green card and be eligible to become a permanent resident in the United States if you have a qualifying familial relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. To achieve this, there are several steps involved for both you and your sponsor.
Step 1: Determine If You Are Eligible
The U.S. green card eligibility categories are broadly split into two groups, which are: the immediate relatives category and the family preference category. Being an immediate relative means you have a close familial relationship with a U.S. citizen. The family preference level, on the other hand, is for other, more distant family members of U.S. citizens as well as some specified family members of green card holders.
Immediate Relative (IR) Eligibility Criteria:
You may be qualified for a green card under the IR subcategory if you are:
- The spouse of a U.S. citizen (IR-1)
- The unmarried child under (not more than 21 years old) of a U.S. citizen (IR-2)
- An orphan adopted by abroad a U.S. citizen (IR-3)
- An orphan adopted by a U.S. citizen in the United States (IR-4)
- The parent of a U.S. citizen (IR-5). The U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years old.
Family Preference (F1-F4) Eligibility Criteria
You may be qualified for a green card under this subcategory if you are:
- The adult unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen. You must be over the age of 21 (F1)
- The spouse, minor child, an unmarried son or daughter (age 21 and over) of a lawful permanent resident (F2)
- A married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen, including your spouse and minor children (F3)
- The brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, including your spouse and minor children (F4). The U.S citizen sponsor must be at least 21 years of age.
You may be eligible for a family green card if you are a:
Fiancé(e) of a U.S. Citizen
If you are engaged to a U.S. citizen, you may become eligible for a family-based green card after getting married to your fiancé(e). The process will require both of you to first apply for a fiancé(e) visa. A fiancé(e) nonimmigrant visa is sponsored by a U.S. citizen by filing an I-129F fiancé(e) visa application.
If approved, you will need to apply for a visa to travel to the United States to get married within 90 days after arriving in the country. Once you are married, you will be eligible to apply for a family-based green card following the same guidelines as the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
Widow or Widower of a U.S. Citizen
If you are a widow or widower of a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for a family green card if you were legally married to the deceased citizen and can prove that you entered the marriage with your late spouse in good faith and not solely for immigration purposes. You will need to self-sponsor your green card application by filing the I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er). If your spouse had filed an I-130 on your behalf before his or her death, it will be considered as though you had filed an I-360 form.
Abused Spouse or Child of a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident
Under the United States federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you may be eligible for a green card if you are a victim of extreme cruelty or battery committed by your parent or spouse who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This will require you to self-petition under VAWA by filing an I-369 without your abusive family member’s consent or knowledge.
Step 2: Your Sponsor Files a Petition on Your Behalf
If you qualify under any of the categories above, then you will need your family member to sponsor your green card application. The U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family member must show that he or she is qualified and willing to sponsor you. To do this, the application process begins with the petition.
This is known as the green card petition. It is the first step of your application process and must be filed by the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. The purpose is to establish the existence of a qualifying family relationship between you. This must be proven with supporting evidence.
I-864, Affidavit of Support
The sponsor must also demonstrate that, if your application is approved, he or she has the ability to support you financially until you are gainfully employed and credited with 40 quarters of work after arriving in the United States. This will require the sponsor to submit an I-864 Affidavit of Support. In the affidavit, the sponsoring family member must prove that he or she meets the minimum income of at least 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
I-130 Processing Time
It takes 6 to 12 months for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to process the I-130. This will depend on the workload at the service center in charge of your application. Also, if there is any missing documentation in the petition, the petitioner will be sent a Request for Evidence (RFE).
Until the required evidence is submitted, the processing will be placed on hold, which may increase the processing time. You can avoid this unnecessary delay by ensuring that all the required documents are submitted with the I-130 form. If this petition is approved, then you (the foreign national beneficiary) will take continue the process by applying for a green card.
Step 3: Apply for a Family Green Card
Your green card application process will depend on your location. There are different routes for applicants based in the U.S. and those that are outside of the U.S. If you are in the United States on a valid nonimmigrant visa, all you will need to do is to file for adjustment of status. If you are based outside the U.S., you will have to apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy in your country of residence. The two processes are explained below:
Adjustment of Status
This allows you to adjust your nonimmigrant status to an immigrant status and obtain a family-based green card. To do this, you will need to file an I-485, Petition to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This is your main green card application and with it, you must prove your eligibility for the family-based category you are applying for.
File I-485 Together With I-130 If You are Immediate Relative
If you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen and you are based in the U.S., you can file your I-485 along with the I-130 petition simultaneously. This is because the category enjoys a higher priority over the family preference levels. The immediate relative category has an unlimited number of green cards available to be issued. Once the I-130 petition is approved, you will immediately be able to adjust your status. Therefore, the two forms can be processed at the same time. This means you can file for and receive a green card and within a year.
As an immediate relative based outside the U.S., you must wait until the I-130 petition is approved before you can apply for a green card.
Wait Until Green Card Is Available
For the family preference category, there are certain limitations. Each of the subcategories has a limit to the number of green cards that are issued each year. This limit is based both on preference category and country of origin. Once the number for a preference category is reached for a particular country that fiscal year, other applicants from that country will need to wait until the following year.
In most cases, there are far more applications for each preference subcategory than there are available green cards. In these situations, the date that the USCIS receives your petition will be considered your priority date. You will need to check this priority date against the “final action dates” provided in the monthly visa bulletin posted by the Department of State. When your priority date matches or passes the final action date in your category, your priority date will be considered “current.”
So, after the I-130 petition is approved, you will have to until your priority date becomes current and an immigrant visa (green card) is available for you. This usually causes a backlog, and the visa issuance will be on a first-come-first-served basis.
I-485 for Family Preference
Once your priority date is current and a green card is available in your category, you can file your adjustment of status petition with the USCIS. Depending on your preference subcategory and country of origin, the waiting time can be as long as 10 years. If you are from one of the countries that usually sees a high volume of green card applications, you may be in the waiting line for even longer. Examples of these countries are China, India, and the Philippines.
Family Green Card Application for Applicants Outside the U.S.
Whether you an immediate relative or a family preference applicant, so long you are based outside the U.S., you will need to wait for your I-130 to be approved before applying through consular processing. The only difference is the shorter processing time for immediate relative applicants. Consular processing involves the following:
Complete the DS-261
This form is used by the National Visa Center (NVC) to collect the necessary information from immigrant visa applicants. It must be completed and submitted online and may take up to three weeks for the NVC to process. You will be notified once the form has been processed so that you can move to the next stage.
Complete the DS-260 Application
This is your green card application. It is also an online form that must be submitted along with relevant documents, including a copy of the Affidavit of Support submitted by your sponsor. Before submitting, you will need to print out the confirmation page of the form. It will be needed at your immigration interview. Other requirements involve:
- Completing the immigration medical examination and receiving the required vaccinations
- Attending the green card interview. The consulate will notify you of the date and location of your visa interview after filling the above forms.
- Receiving the immigrant visa packet, which you will be given if your application is approved after your interview. This will allow you to travel to the U.S.
- Traveling to the U.S. The visa packet issued to you at the embassy is only permission to travel. You must prove to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at a U.S. port of entry (POE), that you are admissible into the United States. Upon your arrival at the POE, the CBP officer will inspect your visa packet and grant you entry as a permanent resident.
- Receiving your green card. After a few weeks in the U.S. (usually within 45 days), the USCIS will mail your family-based green card to you.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
The family green card application process involves several stages for both the applicant and the petitioner. Sometimes, it may take decades due to the technicalities involved. Hiring the services of an immigration attorney will help you avoid delays and ease the pressure that usually comes with the process.
At Immi-USA, we have a team of dedicated and highly experienced immigration attorneys with extensive knowledge of each stage of the family green card application process. We will help you file your petition with all necessary evidence to expedite the process. We will work closely with you to the end of the process, including your immigration interview. You can schedule a consultation with us today by filling out this contact form.