U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) or green card holders have the ability to sponsor a foreign-born member of their family. Receiving permanent residency allows you to obtain employment authorization (commonly known as a work permit). While this process does not occur overnight, there are ways to get the process started on the right foot. Be aware that this right applies to immediate relatives only and other more distant relatives must seek alternative immigration options.
Note: This post reflects information that goes into effect on October 2, 2020.
Because getting a green card in any category can be a difficult and tricky process, we compiled a list of helpful tips to keep in mind as you choose a green card, gather your documents, and file. However, no list of tips can replace having quality legal expertise and representation at your disposal.
Here are 7 tips to help you get a family-based green card:
#1 – Determine Who You May File For
Before sponsoring a family member or beginning the paperwork it’s important to have a thorough understanding of who applies for this type of immigration. As a U.S. citizen, you may file an immediate relative petition for:
- Spouse (IR-1)
- Unmarried child under 21 (IR-2)
- Orphan adopted abroad (IR-3)
- Orphan to be adopted (IR-4)
- Parent who is at least 21 (IR-5)
Remember, that you must be able to demonstrate with proof your relationship between the people you are filing for. This can include birth or marriage certificates or any documentation of adoption or intent of adoption.
If you are a U.S. citizen living abroad, you may file an immigrant visa petition at a U.S. embassy or consulate assuming you have been a resident there for the past six months and have permission from the host country to reside there. Other eligibility requirements may apply. It’s best to consult a family green card lawyer to learn more about this option.
#2 – Understand the Various Subcategories
Just like with any undertaking, it is important to know which options are available to help you determine which would best fit your situation. By educating yourself on the subcategories of family green cards, you can make sure that you are on the right track.
The USCIS gives special priority to immediate family members and relatives as a way to promote familial values and togetherness. This comes in the form of allowing you to file your I-130 petition and your I-485 adjustment of status application concurrently, or at the same time.
Concurrent filing is extended to other family- and employment-based green card applicants, but only under certain circumstances. For immediate family members, concurrent filing is always available.
One major factor to consider with many family-based green card categories is the differing preference levels. These levels are divided according to who you can sponsor as a family member and what their relationship is to you. It also depends on what your status is as a sponsor (i.e. if you are a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen).
F-1: This first preference level is for the children and dependents of U.S citizens
F-2: The second preference level is broken down into two subgroups. The F-2A is for the unmarried children under 21 and the spouses of lawful permanent residents (green card holders). The F-2B is for the children who are over 21 of green card holders.
F-3: In the third level, we have the married children of U.S. citizens
F-4: Finally, the fourth preference level is for the siblings (brothers and sisters) of U.S. citizens.
#3 – Be Prepared for the Processing Times
There are a number of steps within the family based immigration category. First, as the U.S. citizen or green card holder you’ll need to file the proper petition using Form I-130. This form is filed with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the United States that serves the area. If you plan on petitioning for more than one relative, you’ll need to file separate forms for each person.
Since there are roughly 480,000 green cards available for this category of individuals there’s usually a wait based on priority date. Your priority date is the day that the USCIS receives your family-based petition. For the most part, there will not be a visa number immediately available like in the case of some employment-based green cards.
Instead, you will need to check the “final action dates” monthly visa bulletin released by the Department of State. The final action dates are determined by country and preference level. Because so few visa numbers are available in comparison to the number of petitioners, the more people from your country that petition for the same preference level, the longer the wait time will be. Unfortunately, for some levels, the wait time can be many years.
Also, keep in mind that, if your priority date won’t be current for several years, the USCIS may hold off on processing your petition until your priority date is closer to being current. Unfortunately, premium processing is not available for the I-130 petition.
If the annual limit for a certain visa by a particular country has been exceeded, then the final action date for that category will retrogress, or move backward. If the limit was reached but not exceeded, then the date will not move. Lastly, if the limit was not met, the date will move forward.
If you notice that your date has retrogressed, don’t panic. According to the USCIS “When the new fiscal year begins on October 1, a new supply of visa numbers becomes available. Usually, but not always, the new supply returns the cut-off dates to where they were before retrogression.”
What’s needed for the petition?
You’ll need a few things for the petition including your proof of citizenship like a birth or naturalization certificate. You’ll need to demonstrate a qualifying relationship with the beneficiary and prove that your can support that individual at 125% above the poverty line.
The normal waiting period for immediate relatives is anywhere from six to twelve months. This time period can fluctuate of course, based on caseloads by USCIS among other factors.
#4 – Check the Child Status Protection Act
If you do not qualify under the aforementioned regulations because of an age discrepancy, you may want to check the Child Status Protection Act. This allows certain individuals to keep their classification of ‘child’ even after reaching 21. According to USCIS, if the petition for Alien Relative was filed by the U.S. citizen parent the beneficiary’s age freezes on the date of filing. Similarly if the petition is filed by a permanent resident parent and they naturalize before the beneficiary reaches 21, their age freezes on the date the petitioner naturalizes.
#5 – Know Your Limits About Misuse
Be aware that the green can is subject to be revoked it at anytime it’s found to be misused. Such acts that may qualify include:
- Committing a crime
- Establishing a primary residence outside the U.S.
- Not informing the authorities of an address change
#6 – Relative Green Card Associated Fees
Know that there are a number of fees associated with sponsoring a family member for a green card. Fees are due for filing a Petition for Alien Relative, processing the immigrant visa application, any medical exams or vaccines required and extraneous fees. Here are two fees that you will likely encounter when filing:
- The I-130 basic filing fee of $550
- The I-485 filing fee of $1,130
- DS-261 Online Immigrant Application Fee of $445
You should also take outside costs into account such as attorney fees and travel costs. You may be asked to have your biometrics taken (fingerprints). This will result in an $85 fee. Filing the correct fees to the correct places is crucial to avoid wasting time and money.
#7 – Consult Our Family Green Card Lawyers
In a field as complex as immigration law, it can be easy to make errors and mistakes or to file things incorrectly. Mistakes during the family-based green card process can not only cost you time and money, but it can prolong the separation between families. Hiring an expert to help you make sure your case is solid and you are making the best decisions can help you avoid any unnecessary delays or denials.
Our family green card attorneys can help you identify exactly what your need in the petitioning process. With years of experience in the immigration field, our attorneys will with you to avoid any delays related to documents necessary, requests for evidence, etc. Our goal is to do whatever we can to keep families together as they transition to the U.S. Securing your citizenship is our first priority and we’ll work diligently to ensure your approval even if that means going above and beyond our immediate duties.
Keep the aforementioned tips in mind for sponsoring a family member and if you have additional questions feel free to contact one of our qualified family green card lawyers. by filling out this contact form and scheduling a consultation with our office.