Family Based Green Cards

Family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR), or green card holders, may be eligible for permanent residency in the United States. In family based immigration, the sponsoring U.S citizen or permanent resident is called the petitioner, whereas the relative or spouse who is seeking the immigration benefit is the beneficiary.

One important advantage of family-based immigration is that you do not need a U.S. employer to sponsor your green card. Moreover, there are no minimum education and experience requirements that the beneficiary needs to fulfill in order to qualify.

Requirements for Sponsorship

In order to be able to sponsor your relative for immigration to the United States, you must meet the following requirements.

  1. The sponsor must be able to prove that he or she is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident,
  2. The sponsor must have a qualifying family relationship with the beneficiary,
  3. The sponsor must file Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) for the beneficiary’s permanent residency,
  4. The sponsor must prove the ability financially support his family and the sponsored relative at 125% above the federally mandated poverty line. This is done by filing Form I-864 (Affidavit of Financial Support).

Qualifying Relationships for Purposes of Family-Based Immigration.

The qualifying relationships depend on whether the sponsor is a citizen or permanent resident.

United States Citizen United States Permanent Resident/Green Card Holder
  • Husband or wife
  • Unmarried child under 21 years
  • Unmarried son or daughter over 21 years
  • Married son or daughter of any age
  • Brother and sister (the sponsor must be at least 21 years old)
  • Parent(s) (the sponsor must be at least 21 years old)
  • Husband or wife
  • Unmarried child under 21 years of age
  • Unmarried son or daughter 21 years of age

NOTE: Permanent residents are not eligible to sponsor their parents, married sons and daughters, or brothers and sisters.

Categories of Family-Based Residency:

Family-based immigration can be divided into two basic categories: Immediate Relatives and Preference (Limited) Categories. Some categories of family-based immigration are subject to a quota, and usually the demand for this type of residency is greater than the annual quota. Thus, depending on the priority date (the date of filing of the petition that provides an immigrant visa number) of the particular family-based category, the time period for adjusting to permanent resident status can take anywhere between a few months to a several years.

Note: the U.S. Department of State published a monthly visa bulletin indicating the processing time for each category. See

Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens – since there is no annual quota that applies to this category, the sponsored relative does not have to spend time waiting for their priority date to become current after approval of the I-130 petition by USCIS. This is one of the fastest ways to acquire permanent residency in the United States.

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried children under 21 years of age
  • Parents

Preference Categories – these subcategories of family-based immigration are subject to annual quotas. The higher the preference category, the shorter the waiting period for the priority date to become current.

  • Family First Preference (F1) – this category is for unmarried sons or daughters of U.S. citizens over 21 years of age
  • Family Second Preference (F2)
    • F-2A subcategory includes spouses and unmarried children less than 21 years of age of the Lawful Permanent Resident or green card holder. Note on Following-to-Join Benefits. If the foreign national was married before becoming a permanent resident, and his or her spouse did not physically accompany him to the United States, then the spouse may be eligible to file for following-to-join benefits (see below for more information).
    • F-2B subcategory includes unmarried sons or daughters over 21 years of age of the Lawful Permanent Resident or green card holder. This category has a longer processing time period compared to F-2A.
  • Family Third Preference (F3) – this category includes married sons or daughters of U.S. Citizens, their spouses and children under 21 years of age. This category also includes the family members of the son or daughter such as the spouse and children under 21 years of age.
  • Family Fourth Preference (F4) – this category includes the brothers and sisters of U.S. Citizens, and the petition can include the spouse and children under 21 years of age of the brother or sister who is being sponsored. The waiting time under this category may be up to fifteen years.

Follow-to-Join Benefits:

The permanent resident is not required to file an I-130 petition for his spouse or wait for any priority date to become current. The permanent resident simply needs to notify the U.S. Consulate in the region where the spouse is located about your LPR status. This enables your spouse to apply for an immigrant visa at the applicable U.S. Consulate.

The permanent resident spouse needs to submit the following documentation to USCIS in order to obtain the benefits of this category:

  • Form I-824 (Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition)
  • Copy of your green card
  • Copy of the petition that was used to obtain your permanent residency
  • Copy of the I-797 Notice of Action for the immigrant petition

Upon verification of your LOR status, USCIS will notify the appropriate U.S. Consulate thereby enabling your spouse to apply for an immigrant visa.

Required Documents for Filing a Family-Based Petition.

In addition to other applicable evidence and the appropriate filing fees, the following primary documents are required to file a family-based petition:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
  • Form I-485, Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing, depending on whether the qualifying relative is in the United States or abroad.

Grounds for Ineligibility and Waivers:

There are some situations in which the qualifying relative may be ineligible for an immigrant visa. Even if the person seeking the immigration benefit is found to be ineligible for some reason, however, there could be a possibility of applying for a waiver of inadmissibility. Some grounds of ineligibility include:

  • Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis etc.
  • Dangerous physical or mental disorders
  • Drug addictions
  • Commission of serious criminal acts
  • Terrorism
  • Members of a totalitarian party or former Nazi war criminals
  • Illegal immigrants