What are family green cards?
Foreign family members of citizens and permanent residents of the United States may apply for and be granted a Green Card through a family-based immigration program, enabling them to live and work legally in the country.
U.S. citizens can bring more distant relatives to the United States than those who are permanent residents of the United States. Additionally, applicants who are related to U.S. citizens can receive their Green Card and come to the United States faster than family members of permanent residents.
The Immediate Relatives category and the Family Preference category are the two types of family-based green cards. Both of these groups include different visas that applicants can choose from depending on their relationship to the US citizen or permanent resident.
If you wish to apply for one of the family-based green cards, your U.S. relative, who will also be your sponsor, must petition the USCIS on your behalf. It is not possible to self-apply for a family Green Card.
What is the immediate relative category of family green cards?
You may qualify as an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen if you meet any of the following conditions:
- You are legally married to a US citizen.
- You are a U.S. citizen’s under-21-year-old unmarried kid.
- You are a parent of a citizen of the United States who is older than 21.
If you determine that you are an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you may apply for one of the following visas:
- IR1 visa intended for spouses of US citizens.
- IR2 visa is intended for unmarried children of US citizens under the age of 21.
- IR3 visa intended for children adopted abroad by US citizen parents.
- IR4 visa intended for children adopted in the United States by US citizens
- IR5 visa intended for parents of US citizens aged 21 or older.
The biggest advantage of the Immediate Relatives category is that there is no limit to the number of visas that can be granted each year. Since visas from this group are always available, the waiting time tends to be relatively short.
What is the family preference category of family-based green cards?
You can qualify as a preferential relative if you meet one of the following conditions:
- You are an unmarried child over the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen.
- You are a spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a permanent resident of the United States.
- You are an unmarried child age 21 or older of a permanent resident of the United States.
- You are a married child (of any age) of a U.S. citizen.
- You are the brother or sister of a US citizen
If you fall into the Family Preference category, you can apply for one of the following visas:
- First Preference, F1 Visa – for unmarried sons and daughters age 21 and older of U.S. citizens.
- Second Preference, F2A Visa – for spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of US Green Card holders.
- Second Preference, F2B Visa – for unmarried children aged 21 and older of US Green Card holders.
- Third Preference, F3 Visa – for married children of US citizens
- Fourth preference, F4 visa for siblings of US citizens aged 21 or older.
Unlike visas belonging to the Immediate Relatives category, these visas are subject to numerical limits. As a result, many applicants must wait several years to obtain family preference green cards.
Who qualifies to be an Accompanying Relative?
The primary applicant’s spouse or unmarried children under the age of 21 may also be eligible for a U.S. green card as accompanying relatives. These individuals are known as derivative beneficiaries.
Accompanying relatives must be included in the visa application. This will start the immigration process for them. They will then need to submit their applications to change their status to permanent resident and remain in the United States.
Derivatives beneficiaries may be included in all preference visa applications. However, you cannot apply for a Green Card as an accompanying relative of someone who is related to a U.S. citizen.
What supporting documents are required for family green cards?
When you apply for a Family Green Card, you must include a number of documents to prove your eligibility. For both Immediate Relative and Family Preference visa categories, you must submit:
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond your intended date of admission to the United States.
- Birth certificate if you are applying as the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
- Marriage certificate if you are applying as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
- Marriage termination document (if applicable)
- A signed affidavit of support
- Medical examination form
- Two color passport-size photographs.
If your original documents are in a language other than English, they must be translated. Depending on your individual situation, you may also be required to submit other documents.
How to apply for green cards for families?
Regardless of whether you are applying as an immediate or preferential relative, all family-based green cards follow the same application process.
First, your U.S. relative must complete Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and submit it to USCIS on your behalf. Once your petition is approved, you must wait for the visa to become available.
When this happens, applicants who are abroad must undergo consular procedures. This implies that you must fill out Form DS-261 and send it to the US embassy or consulate in your home country in order to continue with your application after the approved Form I-130 is sent there. In addition, you must pay the $325 application fee.
After completing this step, you must fill out Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application along with all required documentation. You must also attend an in-person visa interview.
Applicants who are already in the United States on a different visa must apply for adjustment of status. To do this you must complete Form I-485, Application for Registration of Permanent Residence or Change of Status and submit it to USCIS.
What is the cost of a family Green Card?
How much you will have to pay for a Family Green Card depends on the visa category you are eligible for and the country you are applying from. However, all applicants must pay the following fees:
- $535 filing fee for Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relatives
- $1,140 filing fee for Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence, or Change of Status
- $325 filing fee for Form DS-261, Immigrant Visa Application
- $220 USCIS immigration fee for immigrating to the United States as a lawful permanent resident.
You may also have to pay medical and biometric costs, as well as costs for translating supporting documents if the issues were in a non-English speaking country.
What is the processing time for family green card applications?
The wait time for family green cards varies depending on which visa category you fall into. People who apply as next of kin receive their Green Card much faster than those who are classified as preferential relatives. This is because Immediate Relative Route visas are always available and there are no limits on how many of them can be issued to applicants.
The wait for family preference visas tends to be much longer, with many applicants waiting several years. The annual limits for these visas are as follows:
- 24,000 F1 visas
- 114,200 F2 visas, of which 79,940 F2A visas and 34,260 F2B visas
- 23,400 F3 visas
- 65,000 F4 visas
Once these limits are reached, no more applications will be processed that year and applicants will have to wait for visas to become available again before they can proceed with their application.
Do I need a US sponsor to apply for a Family Green Card?
Anyone applying for a family green card must have a U.S. financial sponsor. To become a sponsor for a relative, a U.S. citizen must have an income equal to at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. They must also provide proof that they are able to financially support the applicant after he or she arrives in the United States.
The application for family-based green cards must be initiated by the U.S. citizen who petitions USCIS for his or her relative. That said, it is not possible to apply for a family Green Card without having a US sponsor.
How long will I have to wait for a Family Green Card?
The wait time for a family Green Card varies depending on whether you are applying as an immediate or preferential relative.
For Immediate Relative visas, the approval process after filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative takes 5 to 12 months. For Family Preference category visas, it can take several years. The waiting time for these visas depends on how many people are waiting in line to get them.
What can I do with a family Green Card?
If your application for a family Green Card is approved, you will be able to come to the United States as a lawful permanent resident. This means that you will be able to stay in the country permanently and work or study there without any immigration restrictions. You will also be able to travel abroad and re-enter the United States as often as you want without having to worry about losing your status.
A family-based Green Card can also serve as a path to U.S. citizenship. Once you have lived in the United States as a permanent resident for more than 5 years, or 3 years if you are legally married to a U.S. citizen, you will be able to apply to become a U.S. citizen.
Who is considered an immediate family member for a Green Card?
You are considered an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen if you are:
- Their spouse
- Their unmarried child under the age of 21
- Their parent (provided the US citizen is 21 years of age or older).
- Children adopted in the United States and abroad are also eligible for a Green Card in the Immediate Relatives category.
If you are eligible for a visa as an immediate family member, you can receive one at any time without having to wait for your Green Card to become available.