Getting a Family-Based Green Card

You have a relative who is a US citizen or green card holder (known as a lawful permanent resident) and now you want to get a green card yourself – but how? Immigration to the United States is usually so confusing! However, the family immigration green card process is pretty straightforward if you know the steps.


First, make sure you are eligible for a green card! If your relative is a US citizen and you are their: husband/wife, child under 21 years old, unmarried child over 21 years old, or married child of any age, then you should be eligible for a green card. If the US citizen relative is your brother or sister or your child, then you are eligible if they are over 21 years old. Finally, if your relative is a lawful permanent resident and you are their spouse or child, then you are eligible for a green card.

Now that you know you are eligible, your relative has to be willing to fill out some paperwork for you. First, they must send in USCIS Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This form will prove the relationship. They must also be willing to sponsor you financially by showing on Form I-864 Affidavit of Support that their income is at %125 of the poverty level, which is determined by the number of people in the family. If they don’t have enough money, don’t give up! You can get a co-sponsor to make up the missing amount.

Sometimes the next step is that there will be an interview to prove the relationship. For example, a parent and child will have to produce the child’s birth certificate. To have an immigration interview is normal in marriage cases, so make sure you are well-prepared. Bring plenty of documents to show that your marriage is real, such as your marriage certificate, joint bank account statements, a lease, and lots of photos.

Once your form I-130 is approved, you may or may not have to wait before proceeding to the next step. This is because you will need a visa to be available for you. There are only a certain number of visas every year, so sometimes you will have to wait a while for one to become available. How long you have to wait depends on what category you are in (called “preferences” because it is based on who the government prefers to have enter the US). If you are the spouse, parent, or unmarried child under age 21 of a US citizen, then you will not have to wait for a visa number. First preference includes unmarried children of US citizens over the age of 21. Second preference includes the spouses of green card holders, their children under 21, and any unmarried children of lawful permanent residents. Third preference is the married children of US citizens and fourth preference is the siblings of US citizens over age 21.

Once a visa number is available to you, you will need to file form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. If you are outside of the United States, you will need to go to the nearest US consulate to register your permanent residence. If you are in the United States, you will often be called to the nearest office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to have another interview. Once your application is approved, your green card will be mailed to you. If you need to travel sooner, you can get a stamp in your passport that works the same way as a green card.

It is possible in some cases to file form I-485 at the same time as your relative files Form I-130. In those cases, you may only have one interview for both the I-130 and the I-485 and may have both applications approved on the spot! Be sure to consult with a good immigration attorney before you do this, as it could cause your application to be denied if you file your I-485 before an immigrant visa number is available. Good luck getting your family-based green card!