Family-based immigration is the most common form of obtaining lawful U.S. permanent residency, which is more commonly known as a “green card.” Family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) may obtain legal permanent residence in the United States.
Filing for permanent residency also allows one to obtain an employment authorization document (EAD), commonly referred to as a “work permit,” which authorizes lawful employment in the United States pending a decision on the green card application.
In general, a person who wishes to immigrate to the United States must have a petition approved by the USCIS before applying for an immigrant visa. For family-based visas, the petition is filed either by a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident relative.
How to File for a Family-Based Immigrant Visa
As the first step, the sponsoring relative files a Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130. The petition is filed with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the United States that serves the area where the petitioner lives.
Sometimes a U.S. citizen living abroad can file an immigrant visa petition at a U.S. embassy or consulate or with the USCIS overseas when the American citizen petitioner has been a resident there for the preceding 6 months and has host country permission to reside there.
Unlimited Family-Based Immigrants – Immediate Relatives
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens (IR): These types of immigrant visas are based on a close family relationship with a U.S. citizen, including spouses, children, and parents.
Additionally, a U.S. citizen can sponsor a child adopted or to be adopted from abroad if that child meets the definition of an orphan as provided for in immigration law. Family members of United States citizens (not Legal Permanent Residents) can file Immediate Relative Petitions.
Immediate Relative Classifications
For Immigration purposes, Immediate Relative classifications include:
- Spouse of a U.S. Citizen (IR-1)
- Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen (IR-2)
- Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen (IR-3)
- Orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen (IR-4)
- Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old (IR-5)
Returning Residents (SB): Immigrants who lived in the United States previously as lawful permanent residents and are returning to live in the U.S. after a temporary visit of more than one year abroad.
Requirements to Sponsor a Relative
There are specific criteria that must be met in order to sponsor a relative to immigrate to the US. They are as follows:
- You must be able to demonstrate that you’re a U.S. citizen or LPR.
- There must be a qualifying relationship between you (sponsor) and the beneficiary.
- As the sponsor, you must file an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and prove that you can support the individual(s) at 125% above the poverty line.
Be aware that by bringing the relative to the United States you accept responsibility for financially supporting them.
Obtaining a Green Card While Outside the U.S.
If you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen and seeking a green card (while outside the country) you may become a permanent resident by way of consular processing.
This form of processing is when USCIS works in unison with the Dept. of State to issue a visa on an approved I-130. From there you can travel on that visa to the U.S. where you can become a permanent resident when arriving at the port of entry.
Limited Family Based Green Card Immigrants
These types of immigrant classifications involve specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident. Under immigration law, there are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants as explained below:
Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their children, if any. (23,400)
Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (over age 20) of lawful permanent residents. (114,200) At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder will be allocated to unmarried sons and daughters.
Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children. (23,400)
Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of United States citizens, and their spouses and children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000)
NOTE: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.
Numerical Limitations for Limited Family-Based Immigrants
Whenever there are more qualified applicants for a category than there are available numbers, the category will be considered oversubscribed, and immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the numerical limit for the category is reached.
The filing date of a petition becomes the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached. In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is reached. Check the current Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates.
Is There a Minimum Age Requirement for the Petitioner?
There is no minimum age to file a petition for a Family-Based immigrant visa. However, the Petitioner must be 18 years of age and have a domicile in the U.S. before he/she can sign the Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, and this form is required for an immigrant visa for spouses and other relatives of U.S. sponsors.
Is a U.S. Domicile Required?
The petitioner must have a domicile (residence) in the United States before an immigrant visa can be issued to the qualifying family member. This is because a U.S. domicile is required to file an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, and this form is required for all immediate family members of a U.S. citizen involved in an immigrant visa case.
Additional Points to Keep in Mind
It’s important to be aware of a few other points relative to getting a green card for a relative.
Educational Background – What’s unique about obtaining this type of green card is that the applicant’s educational background/work experience is not taken into consideration which is a positive benefit for many.
Child Status Protection Act – This Act allows certain individuals to keep their classification of a ‘child’ even after reaching the age of 21. In general, your age is placed on hold as soon as your citizen parent files the I-130.
Unmarried Sons or Daughters – Unmarried sons/daughters of a citizen who get married before officially becoming permanent residents may not be eligible to qualify because their status will change to Married Son or Daughter of U.S. citizen. In some cases, it will result in a delay or denial altogether.
As a final point, it’s important to remember that the green card can be revoked if it is misused. This may qualify as committing a crime, establishing your primary residence outside the U.S. or not informing the proper authorities of a change of address.
It’s often quite difficult for individuals to acquire a green card for more extended relationships like grandparents, uncles, and aunts unless there is a more immediate relationship correlation.
Waiting Period for Immediate Relatives
The waiting period for applicants who fall under the immediate relatives category is about six to twelve months. In terms of a quote, USCIS does not set any for immediate relatives.
Family Based Green Card Lawyer Fees and Government Fees
There are fees associated with the following services:
- Filing Petition for Alien Relative, I-130 (USCIS fee)
- Processing immigrant visa application, DS-260
- Medical exam and any vaccines required
- Extraneous fees (translation, obtaining documents, travel, etc.)
Why Choose Our Green Card Lawyers
The family green card lawyers at SGM Law Group provide our clients with compassion and professionalism. We dedicate time to each and every client in order to understand their specific needs to obtain citizenship.
Our green card lawyers have an in-depth knowledge of the specific procedures and documentation required to complete a successful petition. We do our best to avoid delays in order to give clients the best opportunity in obtaining U.S. citizenship.
To learn more about how we can help you get a green card for your relative, contact our experienced attorneys for a comprehensive Immigration Consultation.
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