U.S. citizens and Permanent Residents may sponsor certain family members for green cards or permanent residency. U.S. citizens may sponsor their spouses, children, parents (if child is 21 or older), brothers and sisters. Permanent residents may only sponsor their spouses and unmarried children. How quickly a sponsored relative becomes a permanent resident depends on the status of the sponsor and the relationship between the family member and the sponsor.
If the beneficiary of the green petition resides outside of the U.S., the visa approval is forwarded to the National Visa Center for additional processing and interview at the appropriate US consulate.
Below are the various classifications and options:
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens: Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may apply for a green card status without having to wait for a visa number to become available. Those residing in the U.S. may apply for adjustment of status immediately as well as a work authorization and a travel document/Advance Parole. Those who entered with a visa but have overstayed their visas may also qualify. However, those who entered illegally without inspection may only adjust their status under Section 245i if they qualify. If not, they may be required to return to their home country to apply for a green card. The following qualify as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens:
- unmarried children under 21 years of age; and
- parents of a U.S. citizen child who is at least 21 years of age.
Family-Based Preference Categories
Relatives that are not immediate relatives as described above may also qualify for a green card. However, they must wait for a visa number to become available before they can enter the U.S. or file for adjustment of status. The length of the wait is determined by the priority date – the date that the I-130 was submitted. The Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin that reflects visa availability based on preference and priority date. The following are the preference categories:
First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age and older.
Second Preference: 2A - Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under twenty-one), and 2B - the unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents over 21 years of age.
Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.
To begin the process for individuals in this category, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor must file an immigrant visa petition using Form I-130 on behalf of the alien relative. Upon approval and once a visa number becomes available, the alien beneficiary may submit an adjustment of status petition if he is in the US. If not, he may complete processing of the green card at the appropriate consulate. Note that certain second preference aliens who have waited for a visa number for 3 or more years may qualify for the V visa which permits them enter or remain in the US until a visa number becomes available. Prior to filing for adjustment of status or consular processing, an alien relative with a pending or approved I-130 petition is not permitted to enter, remain or work in the US unless he has another visa authorizing him to stay.
Documents Required Family-based Green Cards
The USCIS typically requires documentation to establish the family relationship. Such may include marriage certificates, birth certificates, school records, baptismal records. Applications for a spouse requires extensive documentation of a shared life such as apartment leases, joint property, insurance records, joint banks accounts, pictures, etc. In addition, the sponsor must submit evidence that the alien relative can support himself and not become a public charge. As such, the sponsor must complete form I-864 Affidavit of Support and submit tax returns and other proof that he can provide support for the alien. When necessary, income of other family members may be considered to determine whether this obligation is fulfilled.
Those who obtained a green card through a marital relationship less than 2 years old are granted conditional residency for two years. The green card issued typically has an expiration date of two years. Within 90 days of the expiration of the two years, the couple and dependents who received green cards must file a petition with the USCIS for removal of the condition. The alien is then granted complete permanent residency once the condition is removed. The application to remove the condition must be filed jointly by the couple along with documents showing a joint life. In some instances, certain divorced or separated individuals may submit a petition to remove the condition with or without his spouse’s agreement or approval.