Family-Based Permanent Residency (Green Card)
Family reunification has long been an important concept in immigration law. Immigration based on a family relationship can be difficult and complex. If a foreign national wants to become a lawful permanent resident based on the fact that they have a relative who is a citizen of the United States or a relative who is a lawful permanent resident, they must go through a multi-step process. This section will provide an overview of the family-based immigration process, the relationships qualifying for family sponsorship, and the application and adjudication process.
General Requirements for Permanent Residency
Family Based Petitions for Children
Family Based Petitions for Spouses (Links to new page)
Family Based Petitions for Parents (Links to new page)
Family Based Petitions for Siblings (Links to new page)
General Requirements for Permanent Residency
To be eligible to sponsor a relative to immigrate to the United States a person must meet the following criteria:
- Be a citizen or a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States and be able to provide documentation proving your status.
- Prove that you can support your relative at 125% above the mandated poverty line
If you are a US Citizen you may petition for the following foreign national relatives to immigrate to the United States; however, you must be able to provide proof of your relationship:
- Husband or wife;
- Unmarried child under 21 years old;
- Unmarried son or daughter who is 21 or older;
- Married son or daughter of any age;
- Brother or sister, if you are at least 21 years old; or
- Parent, if you are at least 21 years old.
If you are a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) you may petition for the following foreign national relatives to immigrate to the United States; however, you must be able to provide proof of your relationship:
- Husband or wife; or
- Unmarried son or daughter of any age.
A relative that wishes to immigrate must obtain an immigrant visa number that is based on the preference category in which they fall.
The immediate relatives of U.S. citizens include parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. The immediate relatives do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once the visa petition filed for them is approved by the USCIS. An immigrant visa number will be immediately available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Click here for information on obtaining an immigrant visa number if you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.
The relatives in the remaining categories must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:
- First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age or older.
- Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under twenty-one), and the unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.
- Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
- Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.
Once USCIS receives the visa petition, it will be approved or denied. USCIS will notify the person who filed the visa petition if the visa petition is approved. USCIS will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available. The Center will notify you, the foreign national, when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available. The sponsoring relative does not need to contact the National Visa Center, unless they have changed their address or there is a change in their personal situation or that of your foreign national relative that may affect eligibility for an immigrant visa, such as reaching age 21, marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse.
The Department of State is responsible for providing visa numbers to foreign nationals interested in immigrating to the United States. To find out more about the Department of State’s visa process visit the Department of State or click here for specific information on how to get an immigrant visa number.
To check the status of a visa number you can review the Department of State’s Visa bulletin.
There are no numerical limitations for the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives are parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.
The yearly numerical limitations for the family members in the preference categories are as follows.
- First Preference: Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.
- Second Preference: Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents: 114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, and any unused first preference numbers:
Spouses and Children: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit;
Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older): 23% of the overall second preference limitation.
- Third Preference: Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.
- Fourth Preference: Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens: 65,000, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences