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For international adoptions, see International Adoption Immigration.

For births abroad, see Birth Abroad: Child Born Abroad to a US Citizen or Permanent Resident
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The Process of Obtaining a Green Card through Family Immigration
An immigrant (also called a Green Card holder and a "lawful permanent resident") is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of permanently living and working in the United States. If you want to obtain a Green Card and become a lawful permanent resident based on the fact that you have a relative who is a citizen of the United States or a relative who has a Green Card (is a lawful permanent resident), you must go through a multi-step process:

  • You must be eligible for a Green Card (lawful permanent residence) based on a family relationship.

  • The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must approve an immigrant visa petition, USCIS Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative,for you. This petition is filed by your relative (sponsor) and must be accompanied by proof of your relationship to the requesting relative.

  • The Department of State must determine if an immigrant visa number is immediately available to you, even if you are already in the United States. When an immigrant visa number becomes immediately available to you, it means that you can apply to have one of the immigrant visa numbers assigned to you.

  • If you are already in the United States, you may apply to change your status to that of a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) after a visa number becomes available for you. For more details, see Green Card: Become a Permanent Resident While in the U.S. (Adjust Status). If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available for you, you must then go to the U.S. consulate servicing the area in which you reside to complete your processing.


Am I Eligible for a Green Card through Family Immigration?

To be eligible for a Green Card (lawful permanent residence) based on a family relationship you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must have a relative who is a United States citizen or Green Card holder (lawful permanent resident) of the United States who can provide documentation proving their status and is willing to sponsor you for a Green Card (lawful permanent residency) by filing the USCIS I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

  • Your relative must prove they can support you by providing documentation that their income is at least 125% above the U.S. poverty level for their household size, including you and all other sponsored family members. For more details about the meeting this criteria and filing the Affidavit of Support, see Affidavit of Support Guide (Form I-864).

  • If your relative is a US Citizen and they can legally prove you share one of the following relationships, you may be eligible for a Green Card (please see Preference Categories & Visa Numbers, below):
    • Husband or wife;
    • Child under 21 years old;
    • Unmarried son or daughter over 21;
    • Married son or daughter of any age;
    • Brother or sister if you are at least 21 years old; or
    • Parents if you are at least 21 years old
  • If your relative is a Green Card holder (lawful permanent resident) and they can legally prove you share one of the following relationships, you may be eligible for a Green Card (please see Preference Categories & Visa Numbers below):
    • Husband or wife; or
    • Unmarried son or daughter of any age


Am I Eligible to Sponsor a Relative?

To be eligible to sponsor a relative for a Green Card to immigrate to the United States you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be a citizen or a Green Card holder (lawful permanent resident) of the United States and be able to provide documentation proving your status.

  • You must prove that you can support your relative by providing documentation that your income is at least 125% above the U.S. poverty level for your household size, including all sponsored family members. For more details about the meeting this criteria and filing the Affidavit of Support, see Affidavit of Support Guide (Form I-864).

  • If you are a US Citizen you may petition for a Green Card for the following foreign national relatives to immigrate to the United States; however you must be able to provide proof of the relationships:
    • Husband or wife;
    • Unmarried child under 21 years old;
    • Unmarried son or daughter over 21;
    • Married son or daughter of any age;
    • Brother or sister, if you are at least 21 years old; or
    • Parent, if you are at least 21 years old
  • If you are a Green Card holder (lawful permanent resident) you may petition for a Green Card for the following foreign national relatives to immigrate to the United States; however you must be able to provide proof of the relationships:
    • Husband or wife; or
    • Unmarried son or daughter of any age


Preference Categories & Visa Numbers

People who want to obtain a Green Card and become an immigrant based on family are divided into "preferences" (categories), and if their immigrant visa petition is approved, they must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the preference system. An exception exists for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, which includes parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21, who do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once the immigrant visa petition filed for them is approved. An immigrant visa number will be immediately available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

The relatives in the remaining categories must wait for a visa number to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age or older.

  • Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under twenty-one), and the unmarried sons and daughters of Green Card holders (lawful permanent residents).

  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.

  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.

Once USCIS receives your visa petition, USCIS I-130,Petition for Alien Relative, it will be approved or denied. USCIS will notify the person who filed the visa petition if the visa petition is approved. USCIS will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center, where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available.

Because the number of immigrant visa numbers that are available each year is limited, you may not get an immigrant visa number immediately after your immigrant visa petition is approved. In some cases, it could take several years. For more information, see The Preference System: US Immigration Visa Preference Categories for Green Card and Immigrant Visa Numbers: National Visa Center and the US Visa Bulletin (which will also explain how to estimate when a visa number will be available).

The National Visa Center will notify you, the foreign national, when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available. You do not need to contact the National Visa Center, unless you change your address or there is a change in your personal situation, or that of your relative, that may affect eligibility for a Green Card (immigrant visa), such as reaching age 21, marriage, divorce, or death of a husband or wife.


How Do I Apply for a Green Card through Family Immigration?

For specific family situations, see:

For international adoptions, see International Adoption Immigration (there are different requirements and procedures).

For births abroad, see Birth Abroad: Child Born Abroad to a US Citizen or Permanent Resident.


Checking My Application Status
You may check the status of your application or case online, by phone, or by contacting an appropriate USCIS office. For details see USCIS Case Status: Check USCIS Case Status for Visas and Immigration. You may also want to review US Visa Wait Times and USCIS Immigration Processing Times. For more assistance, see HELP! (below).


How Can I Appeal If the Green Card Application is Denied?

If the visa petition you filed is denied, the denial letter will tell you how to appeal. For more information, see How to Appeal if USCIS Denied My Petition or Application (US Immigration, Green Card Denial).


HELP! with a Green Card through Family Immigration


Additional Information on Green Cards through Family Immigration

For specific family situations, see:

For details on sponsorship eligibility and filing the Affidavit of Support, see:
     Affidavit of Support Guide (Form I-864)

For more details on visa numbers, see:
     Immigrant Visa Numbers: National Visa Center and the US Visa Bulletin

For an overview of the preference system, see:
    The Preference System: US Immigration Visa Preference Categories for Green Card

For more details on how to apply to adjust to permanent resident status if you are already in the United States, see:
     Green Card: Become a Permanent Resident While in the U.S. (Adjust Status)

If you want to work while your application for lawful permanent residence is pending, see:
     Obtaining a Work Permit

If you need to travel while your application for lawful permanent residence is pending, see:
     Advance Parole: Foreign Travel with a Pending Green Card Immigration Application

For online immigration forms and fee information, including fee waivers, see:
     USCIS Forms / INS Forms and Other US Immigration Forms, Fees & Filing Locations

If you are outside of the United States and need information regarding immigrating to the United States, contact your nearest U.S. Consulate:
     US Embassies and US Consulates

For international adoptions, there are different requirements and procedures. See:
    International Adoption Immigration

For births abroad, see:
    Birth Abroad: Child Born Abroad to a US Citizen or Permanent Resident

Back to: Green Card Issues (US Immigrant Visas, US Immigration)

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