green card for foreign relatives

Green Cards For Foreign Relatives of US Citizens & Permanent Residents

One of the most complicated areas of immigration law deals with preference categories for relatives of US citizen and green card holders. Many US residents want to apply for a green card for foreign relatives but are confused about the process and the long wait times. In this post, I’m going to break it down into simple concepts that are easier to understand.

Most of us know that marrying a US citizen can be a ticket to a green card, but what about other relatives? Relatives such as parents, children or siblings may also qualify for a green card through a US citizen or green card holder.

Determine Which Preference Category You Qualify For:

  • Family first preference.
    • Unmarried children, any age, of a U.S. citizen.
      • If a child of a US citizen gets married, they drop to 3rd preference but keeps the same priority date.
  • Family second preference.
    • (2A) Spouses and unmarried children (under 21 years old) of green card holders; and
      • If a child of a green card holder turns 21, they fall into category 2B and must wait longer.
    • (2B) Unmarried sons and daughters of green card holders, who are at least 21 years old.
      • If a child of a green card holder marries, they are no longer eligible for a  green card using I-130 petition.
  • Family third preference.
    • Married children of a U.S. citizen, any age.
      • If a child of a US citizen divorces (for reasons other than getting a green card) they move up to 1st preference.
  • Family fourth preference.
    • Sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens, where the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years old

Your age and marital status is very important when it comes to getting a green card through the preference categories above. Some applicants will “age out” by reaching the age of 21 which then drops them down to a lower preference category. This is why applying as soon as possible for your child is so important.

Green Card For Foreign Parents of US Citizen Child

I think the biggest mistake US citizens make is waiting too long to apply for their children that still live overseas. They are unaware of the age restrictions and preference categories causing more delays than necessary.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you have a daughter that is now over the age of 21 and she is a US citizen. You want to apply for a green card as an immediate relative (her mother), with your daughter being the petitioner on form I-130.

Suppose that your daughters father has died and you remarried another man. In this case, your spouse will not be able to join you on the application because he is not an immediate relative of your daughter. You would have had to marry your spouse before your daughter reached the age of 16 for him to qualify.

So, you’d have to wait until you received a green card and petition for your husband directly.

From the example above, you can see the time of remarriage matters. If a parent of a  US citizen remarries after their child turned 16, the new spouse can’t automatically get a green card and “piggyback” on the I-130 petition.

But, if the mother and father of the US citizen are still together, they both can be on the I-130 petition as immediate relatives.

Green Card for Foreign Chidlren of US Citizens

This is probably the most common relative green card petitions after spouses. Once a parent gains US citizenship, they can apply for their foreign born children to join them in the US as immediate relatives.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you are unmarried and under 21 years old. You have a parent that is  US citizen and will have them petition for a green card for you so you can move to the US to live with them. In this case, you have a choice between applying as an immediate relative or family first preference category.

Obviously, it’s better to apply as an immediate relative because of the shorter wait time and no annual limits. The only reason to choose the family first preference is if you have a child of your own that you want to bring along with you.

Can you see how complicated things get depending on your circumstances? That’s probably why some applicants decide to see an immigration attorney to walk them through the process. Remember, any mistakes on the application or filing the wrong form can mean denials or delays.

Green Card Application Process For Foreign Relatives

Getting a green card through a US relative is a 4 step process. If you follow these steps and the instructions on form I-130, you can successfully petition your relatives to move to the US.

Step 1: US citizen or permanent resident files I-130

The US citizen or permanent resident relative starts the process by filing form I-130 with USCIS. This form is just asking for permission for your foreign relative to apply for a visa or green card and is not the final step.

If you are the spouse of a deceased US relative or have been abused by them, you’ll need to file form I-360 instead of the I-130. Both forms will show that you are entitled to apply for an immigrant visa and green card.

You must provide your background information as well as proof of your relationship to the US relative. This can be done by including birth certificates, photos, and affidavits. When you have provided enough evidence, the USCIS adjudicator will approve the petition.

Note: If you have any inadmissibility findings, you will need to file a waiver before the petition will be approved.

Step 2: Visa petition is approved by USCIS

After your case has been reviewed by an adjudicator and they are convinced that you qualify for an immigrant visa and green card, the petition is approved and forwarded to the national visa center (NVC). Depending on the preference category you fall under, you may need to wait for a visa to become available.

There are limits to how many visas are granted for family preference visa categories unlike immediate relatives that don’t have any limits and therefore no wait times.

What are the annual limits for family preference categories?

  • Family first preference – 21,400 visas available annually
  • Family second preference – 114,200 visas available annually
  • Family third preference – 23,400 visas available annually
  • Family fourth preference – 65,000 visas available annually

To find out how long you must wait, NVC puts out a visa bulletin every month showing which priority date (the date your filed the I-130) they are currently working on. Although the visa bulletin isn’t always accurate, it definitely helps you understand how long you will be waiting.

Step 3: Foreign relative applies for permanent residence

If the priority date finally becomes current, a visa will be available to you and that is when you submit an application for permanent residence (an immigrant visa and green card).

You can apply either at a US consulate abroad if the foreign relative lives outside the US or through the process called Adjustment of Status at a USCIS office in the US.

Remember, while waiting for your priority date to become current, your case was just sitting in USCIS or Consulate office. No one was actually reviewing it or touching it at all. If your priority date has come and gone, you can send an inquiry to US customer service at 1-800-375-5283 for an update.

Step 4: Enter the US and claim permanent resident status

Applying through the US consulate, you will be given and immigrant visa that allows you to enter the US and claim permanent resident status. Some immigrants get confused if they are denied entry into the US because they assume that having a visa guarantees them entry.

The reality is that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can ultimately deny you entry for any reason. Having a valid visa allows you to “try” to enter the US and in most cases you should be successful. But just know that it’s really up to CBP to allow you entry.

Final Thoughts on Green Card for Foreign Relatives

Bringing close relatives to live in the US with you can take many years to complete, but by applying now you give you relative a spot in line. I have heard of wait times of more than a decade for applicants from India, China and the Philippines (which is extreme) but many other countries have wait times of less than a year or two.

I’d recommend that you check the visa bulletin monthly to see where NVC is with processing cases. This will keep you up-to-date and ready to submit any additional documents they require. Lots of life changes can happen during the waiting period so  make sure that USCIS always has your current address.

If your foreign relative has turned 21 or gotten married, their case falls lower in priority but they can keep their priority date. If possible, have your relative wait to get married until they get their immigrant visa and green card.

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