Family Green Cards: Pathways to Permanent Residency in the United States
Wondering how you can get a green card through family, especially if an immediate
relative of yours is a US citizen? Explore more routes to US immigration.
There are many pathways to US immigration. While some seek employment in this land of opportunities, others seek to immigrate based on exceptional ability alone. A small minority is both skilled and has an employment offer, but that’s beside the point.
If you aren’t a skilled or low-skilled worker seeking employment in the US and are instead seeking residency through other means, family sponsorship is your next option. Family members of permanent US residents and citizens can immigrate to the country through these family members.
Are you the spouse, child, sibling, or parent of a US citizen or the spouse or child of a LPR (lawful permanent resident)? Sit with our immigration lawyer to explore family-based pathways to permanent residency in the US.
Before doing that, continue reading today’s blog to consider the immigration options available to the family members of US citizens and LPRs.
The Importance of Permanent Residency in the US
Before we start doling out the pathways to permanent residency, let’s take a moment to discuss the importance of this status. Not everyone in the US has a green card, a document alluding to their permanent status there.
Possessing such a document would mean an individual has the right to live and work in the US for as long as they want. They don’t have the same rights as US citizens, but the document is a stepping stone from LPR status and naturalization.
A green card gives you access to education, employment, and social services necessary for acclimatization in a new country. It’s a significant milestone and can lead to more significant milestones in your quest for a better life.
The Family-based Categories for Permanent Residency in the US
Immediate Relatives: Reuniting Loved Ones
The US immigration system prioritizes the immediate family members of US citizens reunite families as soon as possible. Thus, the immigration system does not cap the number of visas available for this category.
It involves the following immediate family members:
- Spouses: Spouses of US citizens qualify for marriage-based immigration, a petition we shall discuss in more detail later;
- Unmarried Children: Any unmarried children of US citizens under 21 qualify for a green card as immediate family members;
- Parents: Parents of US citizens who are 21 or above can sponsor their legal parents for a green card.
Family Preference Categories: A Broader Spectrum
Family preference immigrant visas are divided across four, technically five, categories based on the characteristics of the petitioner and the legal status and age of the sponsored family member.
This category encompasses the broader spectrum of familial connections. Although well-intentioned, these petitions can take years and even decades to process and approve.
The family preference categories are as follows:
- First Preference (F1): The unmarried children of US citizens who are 21 or above;
- Second Preference (F2A): The spouses and unmarried, minor children of LPRs;
- Second Preference (F2B): The unmarried children of LPRs who are 21 or above;
- Third Preference (F3): The married children of US citizens and any children under 21 the former might have;
- Fourth Preference (F4): The siblings of US citizens, the latter being 21 or above.
The Journey to Permanent Residency in the US: Family-based Immigration Petitions
The path to obtaining a green card through family involves several stages and adherence to a well-defined application process.
The first step is filing an immigration petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)., which the sponsoring family member must do. They must be an LPR or US citizen.
As soon as the petition is approved, they establish a relationship with the beneficiary, aka the family member(s) they hope to bring to the US.
Below are the types of immigration petitions the sponsor can file. We can, of course, provide immigration law consultations to help you through all of these petitions.
- Marriage-based Petitions
US citizens and LPRs can sponsor their spouses for permanent residency in the US. They must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. It is here that they, meaning the petitioner, must prove their marriage is real, establishing the grounds for marriage-based immigration of their foreign-born spouse.
The spouse, or beneficiary, is considered an immediate relative if the petitioner is a US citizen. They are forgiven for certain immigration violations, like overstaying their non-immigrant visa or working when said visa doesn’t allow them such a right.
Conversely, the spouse of an LPR or green card holder does not fall under the immediate relative category. They instead fall under the F2 preference category, meaning they don’t get the same benefits as the immediate relatives of a US citizen.
- Petitions for Parents
You can petition to have your biological or stepparents relocate to the US. If you’re a US citizen, your parents will be considered your immediate relatives. They will have the same benefits as the ones mentioned for the spouses of US citizens.
While this category is technically without an annual cap, it is reserved only for the parents of US citizens who are 21 and above. There is no preference category for the parents of LPRs.
- Petitions for Children
As a US citizen, you can petition for the permanent residency of your minor children, adult unmarried/married children, and any minor or adult stepchildren whose parent you married before their 18th birthday.
While children under 21 are considered immediate relatives, adult children (21 or above) are not. Therefore, they do not have many benefits (no caps, overstaying their non-immigrant visa, etc.) granted to immediate relatives. They might be subjected to a longer wait time due to the annual cap on preference categories.
The preference categories for children of US citizens and LPRs are as follows:
- First Preference (F1) for the adult, unmarried children, biological or otherwise, of US citizens;
- Second Preference (F2A) for the minor children, biological or otherwise, of LPRs;
- Second Preference (F2B) for the adult children, biological or otherwise, of LPRs;
- Third Preference (F3) for the adult, married children, biological or otherwise, of US citizens.
- Petitions for Siblings
US citizens can petition for siblings under the Fourth Preference (F4) category. As the last preference, these petitions have the longest wait times. Significant backlogs exist, and your biological or step-sibling might have to wait 12–15 years before reuniting with you.
Unfortunately, there are no pathways to permanent residency for the siblings of green card holders, aka LPRs.
- Fiancé(e) Visa
US citizens can sponsor a fiancé(e) born in a foreign country for a K-1 visa. It is a non-immigrant visa, but it serves as a stepping stone to permanent residency in the US.
Once your partner is granted this entry permit, they must fly or sail to the US and marry you within 90 days of arrival. Your foreign-born partner can then apply for permanent residency in the US with the Department of Homeland Security. They must meet some conditions reserved for immigrant visas to qualify for a K-1 visa and the subsequent adjustment of status.
What Comes After Filing an I-130 Petition?
After the petition filing comes the priority date, adjustment of status or consular processing, and interview. The beneficiary must undergo all these steps before arriving in the US or achieving permanent status during their stay.
Below is a preview of these post-petition steps.
- Priority Dates
Since green cards have annual limits, each family-based immigration petition is assigned a priority date. The Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin displaying the availability of green cards for all preference categories. Petitioners and beneficiaries can track their application progress by priority date and preference category.
- Adjustment of Status
If the beneficiary is in the US on a non-immigrant visa when the petition is filed, they may apply for an adjustment of status. After filing Form I-1485, they can become a permanent resident after their priority date becomes current—earlier than the cut-off date listed in the monthly bulletin.
- Consular Processing
Conversely, if the beneficiary is away from the US, they must undergo consular processing at their nearest US embassy or consulate for an immigrant visa.
- The Journey to Interviews
Once your priority date is current, the consulate or embassy will schedule you for a biometrics appointment and interview. They will thoroughly examine your eligibility and familial relationship and decide whether to grant you an immigrant visa.
- Receive Your Green Card
Once the immigrant visa is granted, the beneficiary will receive a “Visa Packet” that they cannot open. They must pay a USCIS immigrant fee so that the USCIS can process this packet and produce their green card.
After getting their green card, the beneficiary can enter or stay in the US as a permanent resident.
Considerations for the Application Process
Securing permanent residency in the US through familial connections comes with plentiful rewards. The beneficiary can live, work, and study in the US without worrying about overstaying their visa. They can access healthcare insurance, social services, and public education and even apply for US citizenship.
That said, as a beneficiary or petitioner, you must remember the following before starting the application process. Think long and hard about whether the rewards of permanent residency are worth experiencing the following hiccups.
- Green Card Backlogs: Family preference categories have annual quotas, whereas immediate relatives are not beholden to numerical limits. The higher up the preference chain you belong, the shorter your wait time and vice versa. The reason for the lengthy wait: A backlog of all those who applied before you;
- Extensive Documentation: Due to the rise in fraudulent green card marriages, the application process requires extensive documentation to establish the authenticity of the relationship and the eligibility of both the petitioner and beneficiary;
- Grounds for Denial: The USCIS may deny your application due to criminal records, health issues, lack of necessary vaccinations, substance abuse, etc. Ensure the beneficiary doesn’t come under these inadmissibility factors before filing the petition;
- Financial Criteria: Petitioners might be required to meet certain financial obligations to prove they can support the beneficiary.
Seek Legal Advice and Guidance for a Smooth Process
Given the complexity of the immigration process, especially regarding the documentation, requirements, and eligibility criteria, seeking legal guidance is highly advisable. Immigration lawyers and professionals with expertise in family-sponsored permanent residency can provide valuable assistance.
They understand the intricacies of these immigrant visas and can help ensure accurate documentation, navigate potential roadblocks, and streamline the entire process. Are you worried about the above hurdles to permanent residency in the US? Don’t think twice before seeking legal advice at IBP Immigration Law.
Avail Green Card Application Assistance Online
Family-sponsored permanent residency is a crucial part of the US immigration system. It is the cornerstone of family reunification and a promising future for our country. Through immediate relatives and family preference categories, individuals can receive the prized green card that has been the ticket to a bright future for entire generations.
Although the journey involves challenges and waiting periods, the opportunity to create a fresh chapter with loved ones on American soil inspires and motivates immigrants from around the globe.
Does it inspire you enough to settle down in the US? Schedule an immigration law consultation with Ingrid Borges Perez, Esq., an immigration lawyer who has aided many petitioners and beneficiaries in three languages.
Contact us for further assistance and information regarding the process of legal immigration consultations.