Green Card for Family Members of US Citizens

You, as a US citizen can petition for certain family members to receive either a green card, a fiance(e) visa or a K-3/K-4 visa based on your relationship with them.

Application Process: Green Card (Permanent Residence)

To petition for a family member to receive a green card (permanent residence), you are required to submit the following:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
  • Proof of your US citizenship
  • Proof for the qualifying relationship (birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, etc.)
  • Proof of any legal name change for you or the beneficiary.

Also note that spouses of deceased US permanent residents (widows and widowers) may also be eligible to become permanent residents.

Immediate Relatives

In immigration terms, “immediate relative” is used to define certain immigrant relatives of US citizens. Immediate relatives are:

  • Spouses of US citizens
  • Children (unmarried and under 21) of US citizens
  • Parents of US citizens (The petitioning citizen must be 21 years or older.)

Visas are always available for immediate relatives of US citizens, which means that your family member does not need to wait in line for a visa. Immediate relatives who are in the US can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status at the same time as Form I-130.

Preference Categories

Family members who are not immediate relatives fall under the preference category. The visas allotted for these categories are subject to numerical limits annually. A visa under the preference category becomes available 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 of US citizens (adult means 21 or older.)
  • Second Preference (2A): Spouses of green card holders, unmarried children (under 21 years of age) of US permanent residents
  • Second Preference (2B): Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters (regardless of age) of US citizens
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult US citizens

The Next Step

If your relative is already in the US, he/she may apply to adjust status to become a green card holder (permanent resident) after a visa number becomes available. You have to file Form I-485.

In case your relative is outside the US, your petition will be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will then forward your petition to the appropriate US consulate when a visa becomes available. Your relatives will then be notified about how to proceed. This process is called, “Consular Processing”.

Your family member’s preference category will determine how long he/she will have to wait for an immigrant visa number. For information related to visa availability, see the “Visa Bulletin” page on the US Department of State website.

It is important to note that a visa petition (Form I-130 or Form I-129F) is only used to demonstrate a qualifying relationship. An approved petition does not grant any benefit and it just creates a place in line for visa processing. If you or a member of your family is in the US military, special conditions may apply.