A U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident can apply for a loved one to join them in the United States. The criteria and requirements differ depending on what the status of the sponsor is (citizen or resident) as well as the familial relationship to who they are applying for.
Here we will outline what you need to know about applying for a family-based green card.
Who qualifies for a family-based green card?
An American citizen or permanent resident (green card holder) can petition for family members to join them in the United States. Family-based immigration falls into two categories: immediate relatives and family preference.
Immediate Relatives Category
The United States Immigration Law categorizes the spouse, unmarried children (under 21 years old), and parents of U.S. citizens (over 21 years old) as immediate relatives. This means that there are no restrictions on how many immediate relative visas can be granted in a year, therefore there is no ‘waiting list’. However, there are processing times while waiting case approval. Once you apply for an immediate relative and the application is approved, the visa for entry can be granted.
- Unlimited visas available (no wait)
- Relatives of U.S. citizens
- Unmarried children (under 21)
- Parent of U.S. citizen (over 21)
Family Preference Category
Other eligible family members fall into the category of a family “preference immigrant”. This category is subject to long wait times as there is a limit every year for immigrant visas available to family preference immigrants each year.
Within the family preference category, there is also an order of priority:
First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons/daughters (21 or older) of U.S. Citizens
Second Preference (2A): Spouses and children (unmarried and under 21) of permanent residents
Second Preference (2B): Unmarried adult sons/daughters (21 or older) of permanent residents
Third Preference: Married sons/daughters (any age) of U.S. Citizens
Fourth Preference: Brothers/sisters of adult U.S. citizens
Fiances do not qualify under ‘family-based’ green cards if you are looking to bring your fiance to the United States you will need to apply for a K-1 Visa. Find out how to qualify and the process for a fiance visa here.
- Numerical limit of immigrant visas available every year
- Wait times for an available visa
- Relatives of U.S. citizens
- Unmarried, adult son or daughter (over 21)
- Married children of U.S. citizen
- Brother or sister of adult U.S. citizen
- Relatives of U.S. permanent residents
- Unmarried children (under 21)
- Unmarried children (over 21)
Requirements for a family-based green card
The requirements for a family-based green card petition differ based on the category and preference, however in general the main requirement for all of them is that the sponsor (the family member in the United States) has a valid U.S. address and a valid status. This means proof of American citizenship or residence as a lawful permanent resident.
There are other factors that are taken into consideration for the sponsor such as finances, as they will be required to sign an affidavit of support, which means they are financially responsible for the family member and need to meet certain income thresholds.
Applicants are also required to not to be inadmissible based on certain grounds such as criminal record, this can make it challenging to gain approval for a green card. You will also need to provide proof of the family relation, such as a marriage certificate or birth certificate.
How to apply for a family-based green card
1. File Petition
The U.S. citizen or permanent resident (sponsor) will file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. In this form, the sponsor will need to complete information about themself (the petitioner) and the relative they are applying for such as address history, employment history, and relationship. It is important that the details provided on this form are accurate and correctly filled out. An immigration attorney can complete this form for you to ensure no key information is missing which may cause delays in processing or be a reason for denial.
Along with Form I-130, you will need to provide supporting documents, such as the marriage or birth certificate and proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. Furthermore, you will need to pay the filing fee for Form I-130, if you are applying for more than one relative you will need to submit individual forms and pay a filing fee for each.
If the relative is already in the United States legally, a U.S. citizen can file Form I-130 along with an adjustment of status Form I-485, which can grant permanent residency if approved.
2. Await Decision from USCIS
Once you submit Form-130 USCIS will send a receipt notice, this confirms that your form has been received with the correct documents and filing fee, it will have your priority date. A receipt notice is not an approval, the petition itself is still to be processed and approved or denied by USCIS.
The approval or denial from USCIS can take months, sometimes years depending on the category (immediate relative or family preference).
If Form-130 is approved by USCIS the petition will be sent on to the National Visa Center (NVC) and proceed as part of the consular process, where the immigrant visa is processed at the U.S. consulate in the home country of the beneficiary (relative of U.S. citizen or permanent resident).
If you have filed Form I-485, adjustment of status, and the beneficiary is already in the United States, this will follow a different process that USCIS completes from start to finish.
3. Submit Requested Evidence Or Wait for Visa to Become Available
For applicants who fall under the ‘immediate relative’ category, the NVC will send further paperwork to the petitioner, such as the affidavit of support. Once all required documents are submitted, the NVC will forward the case file to the U.S. consulate in the home country of the beneficiary.
Applicants who fall under the ‘family preference’ category at this point could have a long wait until a visa is available for them. This will be depending on their priority date, as well as where they are applying from as each consulate has a certain allocation.
4. File Form DS-260
All consular applicants are then required to complete Form DS-260, this will contain similar information as Form I-130 however it is to be completed by the relative who is applying for the green card rather than the sponsor. If you fall under the ‘immediate relative’ category you can submit Form DS-260 without having to wait. However, if you are under the ‘family preference’ category, you will need to wait until your priority date before you can proceed with Form DS-260.
The various ‘rules’ and multiple forms can be time-consuming and feel overwhelming to complete accurately, an immigration attorney can complete the forms for you and manage your application through the various stages ensuring that all required documents are submitted correctly and on time to avoid delays and risk of denial.
Eunice O: Ify is well versed in her craft and it was evident in how she handled our case from start to finish.
From the moment my husband and I had our consultation with Ify and her team in June of 2019, we knew we were in good hands. I had a prior consultation with a Dallas-based lawyer about a year before that and it did not go well, so it was important for me to feel comfortable from the first encounter. Ify is well versed in her craft and it was evident in how she handled our case from start to finish. She provided additional guidance about temporary USCIS policies due to COVID-19 and more. Thanks to her and her wonderful team, our case result was favorable. My husband and I are so grateful and if we had to do this process all over again, we would choose the attorney Ify repeatedly.
5. Submit All Required Documents
Along with Form DS-260, you are required to submit key documents to support your case and prove eligibility to migrate to the United States.
Standard documents include:
- Police records
- Valid passport
- Marriage/birth certificate
- Medical examination and proof of vaccines
Other documents may be required depending on individual circumstances. Not providing the correct supporting evidence, even format, dates, etc. can cause delays.
Once all required forms and documents are received your interview will be scheduled at the local U.S. Consulate or Embassy.
6. Attend Interview
You will receive an interview date and time at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy which the relative has to attend. You must provide all supporting documents at the interview that you previously submitted.
Interview prep can be very beneficial in order to prepare you for any questions you may be asked, as well as calm your nerves as this is one of the most vital moments in your immigration journey. In most cases, you will be notified at the end of the interview if your petition is approved or denied.
Contact us to schedule time for interview prep.
7. Travel to the United States
Once your family-based green card is approved, you will receive a packet that can only be opened by a U.S. immigrant official at a port of entry. Under no circumstances should you open it. You will travel to the United States, where a U.S. immigrant official will be the one that officially decides whether to grant entry or not.
There are multiple steps in applying for a family-based green card, at times it can seem repetitive or like you aren’t moving forward or facing multiple challenges. Using an immigration lawyer can reduce the stress and confusion that can come along with the immigration process. At the Law Office of Ify Ononogbu we specialize in immigration law and have boundless experience in uniting family members.
From start to finish we can complete the required forms for you ensuring accuracy and collating required supporting documents so that your application is strong and completed correctly. We will be there to answer any questions you have, notify you with updates, and prep you for the interview.
Laura G: I would recommend Ify and her staff to anyone going through a USCIS process of any kind.
My husband and I picked her for my adjustment of status and we have nothing but words of praise. They guided us through everything step by step and have made this 7-month long process very easy. All we had to do is provide the documents and know they will take care of the rest. I look forward to working with their office again in the future.
Our team will guide you through the United States immigration process, answer any questions you have and ensure your petition is completed with accuracy and purpose.
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