Which family members qualify for green cards under family-based immigration laws?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Only certain family members can qualify to become permanent residents. The opportunities for getting a green card for a relative will depend on your status. If you are a U.S. citizen, you may sponsor the following relatives to come to the United States under family-based immigration laws: your spouse (husband or wife), your sons and daughters (regardless of their age and whether or not they are married), your parents, brothers and sisters (if you are age 21 or older).

You must submit an application for each relative that you are requesting to bring to the United States. The first form you need to complete is Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Once you complete the application, you must also attach the following: proof of your relationship, evidence of your U.S. citizenship, and the correct filing fees. If your relative is an immediate family member, they will not be placed on a waiting list. Immediate family members include spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 years of age. Other family members will be placed on a waiting list of other visa applicants from their country.

Once your application is received and approved, you must sign an affidavit, Form I-864, acknowledging your willingness and ability to support the relative that you are seeking to sponsor. The final step is for the United States Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) to issue a visa authorizing your relative to come to the United States.

If you are a green card holder you may petition for your husband, wife, and your unmarried sons and daughters. The process of bringing a relative to the United States is similar to those discussed above. You must submit a Form I-130 for each relative you would like to bring to the U.S., and all subsequent procedures. The difference in the two processes relates to waiting periods. Relatives of U.S. citizens will get first priority on waiting lists, whereas relatives of green card holders will receive secondary priority and are subject to numerical limitations.

Family members that do not qualify to become permanent residents include: step-children, grand-parents, and cousins. Essentially, sponsorship is limited to more immediate family members. Even if a family member does not qualify for sponsorship by you, other options may be available. Consult with an experienced immigration lawyer for guidance in which options are best for your family. 

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