How to Get a Green Card Through a U.S. Family Member


Are You Eligible?

There are three categories by which an individual can apply for a green card through a relative who is already a citizen of the United States. It is important to remember that if a family member is only a landed resident (with a valid green card) but has not become an American citizen, it is not possible for that relative to sponsor your immigration to the United States of America. Only citizens can petition on behalf of family members who are living abroad.

Immediate Relative of a United States Citizen

An immediate relative is someone who qualifies by relationship for sponsored immigration. In this category the United States does not limit how many immigrants may enter the country, if they are the immediate relatives of a citizen.  What this means is that immigration for direct relatives living abroad is not capped annually, the way that other types of petitions are.  This can reduce the waiting period by years, and it is a compassionate provision that allows for immediately family members to be reunited in America.

The following foreign-born individuals qualify for immigration as “Immediate Relative”:

  • A Spouse of an American citizen. Regardless of where the marriage took place.  This also includes individuals who are the widow or widower of an American citizen.  If the American spouse has died, the foreign spouse can qualify for immigration to rejoin family members in the United States within twenty-four months after the death of the American spouse.
  • Unmarried children or dependents (who are under the age of 21) of an American citizen.  Foreign born children can rejoin their parents in the United States providing they are under the age of twenty-one years and unmarried.
  • Natural parents of American citizens, where the citizen is more than 21 years of age.  If you are an American citizen and over the age of twenty-one years you can petition to have your parents join you from another country.

The purpose for the “Immediate Relative” category is to reduce the waiting time and complications of immigration for foreign residing dependents of citizens of the United States. This provision allows parents, spouses and children to take care of their immediate family members by bringing them to the United States to reside.

Preference Relative of a United States Citizen

The ‘Preference Relative’ category as it pertains to legal immigration to the United States defines family members who are not immediate family, but who are still closely related.  This category exists for family members who are closely related but who may not require financial supports (non-dependents).

The following foreign-born individuals qualify for immigration as a “Preference Relative”. The category is broken down into subcategories for qualification.

Family First Preference

An unmarried child who is over the age of twenty-one years.  The adult child can be of any age, however the parent must be an American citizen. Adult children who are married cannot qualify for consideration under this category.

Family Second Preference

This category is divided into two additional subcategories.  Category 2A under this section refers to spouses and unmarried children under the age of twenty-one years who are the spouse or child of an American green card holder (American citizenship is not required to petition under Category 2A).   The second distinction is Category 2B which applies to the children (over the age of twenty-one years) of American green card holders.

Family Third Preference

This category typically presents the longest approval and processing period, and it applies to married adults over the age of twenty-one years, who are the children of an American citizen.

Family Fourth Preference

This category allows for an immigration petition on behalf of brothers and sisters of United States citizens, whereby the sibling is over the age of twenty-one years.

An “accompany relative” category is also in place for the spouse and unmarried children (under the age of twenty-one years) of the individual who qualifies for one of the first through fourth preferences.  If the dependant family members wish, they can be included in the immigration process and they are referred to as a “derivative” applicant or beneficiary.

In order to include any accompanying relatives in the petition for immigration, the US citizen (or in some categories green card holder) is required to list those members on the Form I-130 application.  After the application has begun, it is not possible to name other family members or add them to the petition or request.

It is important to note that processing for all other categories (with the exception of the family first preference), the immigration application process can take years or longer, with some files taking more than ten years to be approved.

The U.S. Department of State and Consular Affairs publishes an annual Visa Bulletin, which provides processing time data for individuals to review the progress of similar petitions and cut off dates.

An immigration lawyer in Chicago can help local families navigate the complicated immigration system to avoid application problems, and provide advice on the best type of petition for your family.  For general information and assistance, the USCIS office is located at 101 West Congress Parkway, Chicago 60605.

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