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Getting a Green Card for Family Members

Obtaining lawful permanent residence status, or a green card, is a necessary step on the way to becoming a U.S. Citizen. As a green card holder, in addition to the right to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis, you gain an important new set of rights. Significantly, you can now sponsor relatives applying for their own green cards. You are also allowed to travel from and return to the U.S. without disrupting your status. Green card holders can make campaign contributions, receive Social Security benefits after ten years of work in the country, and are eligible to get in-state tuition.. If you are interested in applying for a green card, this guide will help you understand the avenues for obtaining a green card, specifically detailing the process for those eligible through an immediate family member.

Green Card Eligibility

In general, to apply for permanent residence in the U.S. you must meet each of the following requirements.

1. First, you must be eligible for one of the immigrant categories set forth by the Immigration and Nationality Act. The most common immigrant categories are having a qualified family member, having a job offer or employment, or being a refugee or having asylum status. There are many other avenues of eligibility, including for victims of trafficking and the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, so consult the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website to determine your status.

2. Second, for most immigrant categories, an immigrant petition that establishes the basis for your immigrant eligibility must be filed on your behalf.

3. Third, you must be eligible for admission to the United States, meaning there are no health-related, criminal, security or other grounds for inadmissibility.

4. Finally, a visa must be immediately available. For immediate relatives of a U.S. Citizen, visas are always available, but for all others, there are a limited number of visas awarded each year. The order in which these visas are assigned is determined by immigrant visa preference categories under U.S. immigration law.

Are you eligible to apply for a Green Card?

Are you currently living in the United States?

Have you lived in the US for more than 3 months?

Did you enter the United States with an active visa or green card?

Are you married to a US citizen?

Do you have an immediate family member that is a U.S. Citizen or is a Green Card holder?

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Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens Living in the U.S.

Parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21 (natural or adopted) of U.S. citizens are considered immediate relatives and do not have to wait to get a visa. If you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen and meet all of the green card eligibility requirements, you can file for a green card. If you are living inside of the United States, you may apply with Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) at the same time your sponsoring family member files Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). This called concurrent filing (where you file all forms at the same time and to the same place) and is the preferred and most expedient way to file. However, if your sponsoring family member has previously filed Form I-130 and it has not been denied, you can still file your Form I-495 but must also attach a copy of Form I-797 (Notice of Action). Form I-797 is simply a receipt that shows your Form I-130 has been received or approved.

1. Filing Form I-130

This form is available on the USCIS website and must be completed by your sponsoring relative. In addition to completing the Form I-130, your sponsor must submit documents proving U.S. citizenship and documents proving the family relationship. Consult the USCIS website to determine what forms of proof are accepted. Any documents in a foreign language must be accompanied by a certified English translation.

Click here to prepare your green card packet (including I-130) with SimpleCitizen.

The filing fee for this form is $535. This fee cannot be waived.

If this form is filed concurrently with I-495, it must be mailed to the USCIS Chicago Lockbox. If not filed concurrently, consult the USCIS website for the correct address.

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries, the address is:

USCIS
PO Box 805887
Chicago, IL 60680-4120

For FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries, the address is:

USCIS
Attn: FBAS
131 South Dearborn – 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

2. Filing Form I-485

You can find this form on the USCIS website. In addition to fully completing your Form I-485, you must provide the USCIS with supporting documentation. You must include evidence of your criminal history, if any, a copy of your foreign birth certificate or other birth records, a copy of the passport page from any nonimmigrant visa issued from a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad within the past year, two passport-style color photos, and, if required, a medical examination report (Form I-693). Note that all documents in a foreign language must be accompanied by a certified English translation.

The filing fee for Form I-485 is $1,140. An additional biometrics service fee of $85 is required for applicants aged 14 to 78. If you are unable to pay this fee, a fee waiver might be available.

Your forms should be mailed to the UCIS Chicago Lockbox.

Click here to prepare your green card packet (including I-485) with SimpleCitizen.

3. What Happens Next?

Within one to two weeks of submitting your paperwork, you will receive Form I-797 (Notice of Action), which includes a receipt number from the USCIS that will allow you to track the status of your application. To check your status, go to USCIS.gov, enter the thirteen digit receipt number, and click “Check Status.” Next, sometime after your application is filed, you will be notified in writing where and when you must go for a biometric services appointment, which entails fingerprinting and possibly taking a photo or submitting your signature. If you do not go to this appointment, your application might be denied. Finally, you will be called in for an interview at your local USCIS office. It is possible your green card will be approved at this interview.

Although the wait time for an interview can vary, for an immigrant spouse living in the U.S. after legal entry, the average wait is six months to a year. Within 30 days of being informed that your green card has been approved, you will receive a welcome notice from the USCIS. Then within 30 days of receiving the welcome notice, you will finally get your green card in the mail.

Non-Immediate Family Members

Parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21 (natural or adopted) of U.S. citizens are considered immediate relatives and do not have to wait to get a visa. However, other qualified relatives are placed in preference categories depending on their relationship to the sponsor. U.S. Immigration law limits both the number of visas given to each category every year and the total given to each country. There are 226,000 family-sponsored preference visas allocated each year, and each category is given a law-mandated percentage of that total. The wait to submit a visa application can be years or even decades.

To start the visa process, the sponsoring family member must file a visa petition (document form I-130). The date this petition is properly filed becomes the applicant’s “Priority Date.” Each month, the State Department puts out the Visa Bulletin, listing which Priority Dates can submit their visa application for each preference category. The Visa Bulletin actually lists two dates- those priority dates that are Eligible for Final Action, which means their visas are ready to be issued, and priority dates that are Eligible for Filing, which is the date those people can file their application for a visa, often years before their visa is ready to be issued. The visa application is called an “Adjustment of Status” application. Many choose to file ahead of time because those with pending applications are eligible for temporary Employment Authorization Documents and Travel Permission while they wait for their visa.

There are four family-sponsored preference categories. The priority dates eligible for final action and filing are determined by these preference categories, as well as the current country of citizenship (called the country of chargeability). There are some countries (mainland-born China, India, Mexico and the Philippines) that have a high number of applicants and therefore applicants from those countries may have longer wait times than others in their same preference category.

The First Family Preference (F1)

F1 is for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. Citizens over the age of 21, and their children, if any. As of May 2017, the wait for applicants in this preference category, not from a high volume country, was almost seven years from their priority date. The waits for high volume countries vary. For example, the wait for Mexican applicants to be eligible for a visa is currently twelve years, whereas those from China and India are waiting seven years.

The Second Family Preference (F2)

F2 is divided into two sub-preference categories (F2A and F2B). F2A covers spouses and children (under 21) of permanent residents. As of May 2017, the wait for applicants in this preference category, not from a high volume country, was about two years from their priority date. F2B is for unmarried sons and daughters (over 21) of permanent residents. As of May 2017, the wait for applicants in this preference category, not from a high volume country, was almost seven years from their priority date.

The Third Family Preference (F3)

F3 covers married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and minor children. As of May 2017, the wait for applicants in this preference category, not from a high volume country, was about twelve years from their priority date.

The Fourth Family Preference (F4)

F4 covers brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, their spouses and minor children. As of May 2017, the wait for applicants in this preference category, not from a high volume country, was around thirteen years from their priority date.

Helpful links

SimpleCitizen’s 2017 Green Card Application Guide

Find out if you are eligible to apply

Marriage Based Green Card Interview Questions

Updated on January 15, 2020

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