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Family & Marriage-Based Immigration

Contents

    One of the ways people can become lawful permanent residents (LPRs, or green card holders) is by having a family member in the U.S. petition (apply) for them. The process involves two steps: (1) proving the relationship and (2) sponsorship. This article explains the entire process.

    In some cases, people can even become U.S. citizens based on their parents’ statuses.

    Citizenship through Parents

    There are two ways of becoming a U.S. citizen through your parents. The first is being born to or adopted by a U.S. citizen parent. The second is if at least one of your parents with whom you live becomes a citizen after your birth or adoption but before you turn 18, and you are a lawful permanent resident. To learn more about citizenship through parents, read Citizenship and Naturalization.

    Becoming an LPR through Family & Marriage

    U.S. citizens and LPRs can help certain family members become LPRs. For immigration purposes, there is a distinction between children who are under 21 years old and unmarried, and those 21 and over or married. People in the first category are known as “children.” People in the second category are known as “sons/daughters.” This distinction affects the category in which a child is placed when it comes to visas.

    U.S. Citizen Petitioner

    If you are a U.S. citizen 21 years old or older, you can help some of your relatives become LPRs by petitioning for them. Afterward, you will need to prove you have enough income and assets to support your relative(s) should their application(s) be approved.

    You begin this process by filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. This form proves the qualifying relationship with your relative.

    As a citizen, you can file petitions for your:

    • Spouse
    • Children
    • Parents
    • Siblings
    • Married and unmarried sons and daughters

    Immediate Relatives

    For certain relatives of U.S. citizens, (called immediate relatives) immigrant visas/green cards are always available. This means your family member does not have to wait to apply for an immigrant visa/green card. For immigration purposes, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents. 

    As a citizen, you can petition for an immediate relative while that relative is lawfully present in the U.S. or abroad. If your relative is lawfully in the U.S., they may be able to adjust status if they are admissible (allowed to enter the U.S.) and are otherwise eligible for a green card. That process happens at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office. When your relatives are abroad, they will go through consular processing. This means USCIS will work with the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to issue a visa after Form I-130 is approved.

    Before your relative becomes an LPR, you must agree to financially sponsor them by filing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. This means that you are liable to support your relative at 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for up to ten years or until your relative naturalizes (becomes a citizen), whichever happens first. If you do not have sufficient income or assets, you will need a co-sponsor. 

    Non-immediate Relatives

    The other relatives a U.S. citizen can petition for are subject to visa preference categories. There are only 226,000 immigrant visas every year for these family-based immigrant visas. The immigrant visas are available when the priority date (the date the Form I-130 was filed) becomes current. That means your relative might have to wait several years or even decades before their priority date is current. Waiting can happen in or outside the U.S. To see what the current priority dates are, look at the Visa Availability and Priority Dates  page on the USCIS website and Visa Bulletin on the DOS website.

    People 21 or older who are unmarried sons or daughters of U.S. citizens make up the First Preference category. Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens are in the Third Preference category. Siblings of U.S. citizens make up the Fourth Preference category. (The second preference category is made up of spouses, children, and unmarried sons/daughters of LPRs.)

    It is possible for a U.S. citizen to petition for a non-immediate relative while that relative is lawfully in the U.S. However, the relative would have to wait for the priority date (the date Form I-130 is filed) on their visa category to become current before they can file an application to adjust their status. Some relatives in the U.S. will not qualify to adjust status in the U.S. and will have to go through consular processing. Your relative should speak with an immigration lawyer about whether he or she would qualify to adjust status or go through the consular process.

    If your non-immediate relative is abroad, they will go through consular processing. This means USCIS will work with DOS to issue a visa on an approved Form I-130 when the visa is available. It could take several years before a visa becomes available. Once your relative has the visa, they are allowed to come to the U.S.

    Before your relative immigrates to the U.S., you must agree to financially sponsor them by filing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. This means that you are liable to support your relative at 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for up to ten years or until they naturalize, whichever happens first. If you do not have sufficient income or assets, you will need a co-sponsor. 

    If your relative turns 21 years old or their marital status changes, it can affect the preference category they are in.

    LPR Petitioner

    If you are an LPR, you can help your spouse, child, and/or unmarried son or daughter become LPRs. Part of the process requires you to prove you have enough income and assets to support your relatives when they come to the U.S.

    You begin this process by filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Your relatives are subject to visa preference categories. Spouses and children (unmarried under 21) of LPRs make up the 2A Preference category. Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years old or older) of LPRs make up the 2B Preference category. Only a certain number of visas in this category are available every year. Visas are available to someone in a preference category based on the priority date (the date the Form I-130 was filed). Your spouse/child/unmarried son or daughter could have to wait several years until the priority date is current. To see what the current processing times and priority dates are, look at the Visa Availability and Priority Dates page on the USCIS website and Visa Bulletin on the DOS website.

    It is possible for you to petition for your spouse/child/unmarried son or daughter while they are legally in the U.S. However, your relative would have to wait for the priority date (the date Form I-130 is filed) on their visa category to become current before they can file Form I-485 to adjust their status. It could be several years to complete this entire process. Some relatives in the U.S. will not qualify to adjust status in the U.S. and will have to go through consular processing. Your relative should speak with an immigration lawyer about whether he or she would qualify to adjust status or go through the consular process.

    If your spouse/child/unmarried son or daughter is abroad, they will go through consular processing. This means USCIS will work with the DOS to issue a visa on an approved Form I-130 when a visa is available. It could take several years or decades before a visa becomes available. Once your spouse/child/unmarried son or daughter has the visa, they are allowed to come to the U.S.

    Before your relative immigrates to the U.S., you must agree to financially sponsor them by filing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. This means that you are liable to support your relative at 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for up to ten years or until they naturalize, whichever happens first. If you do not have sufficient income or assets, you will need a co-sponsor. 

    If you file a petition for a child (unmarried and under 21) or unmarried son/daughter (21 or older) and that person marries, the petition will automatically be revoked because there is no preference category for married sons/daughters of LPRs. You can get around this if you naturalize and then your child or unmarried son/daughter marries. Their priority date would remain locked in and only the preference category changes. This could also result in your relative having to wait a longer period of time to immigrate.

    Becoming a Citizen During the Process

    If you are an LPR and you become a citizen while your relative is waiting for their priority date to become current, it will affect the preference category. For example, if you petition for your unmarried son/daughter (21 or older) as an LPR and you naturalize, the preference category moves from 2B Preference to 1 Preference.

    To learn more about U.S. citizens helping their relatives become LPRs, read the section above. To learn more about how to become a U.S. citizen, read Citizenship and Naturalization.

    Inadmissibility and Bars to Reentry

    Just because a person has a relative who is a U.S. citizen or LPR does not mean that person will automatically be allowed to enter the U.S or be eligible for a green card. Some people are inadmissible (not allowed to enter the U.S.) for several reasons. Or they could be barred from reentering the U.S. for other reasons.

    To learn more about these issues, read Inadmissibility, Deportation, and Bars to Reentry.