Who is Eligible for a Family Based Green Card?

A Green Card is necessary for anyone wishing to immigrate to the U.S. and live here as a permanent resident. The Green Card is officially known as the “Lawful Permanent Resident Card” and can be acquired in a variety of ways, including through the workplace, a Green Card Lottery, or as a family member of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. A Green Card acquired as a family member of a citizen or permanent resident is called a "family immigration visa."

Most foreigners who want to immigrate to the states are sponsored by a family member who is either a permanent resident or a naturalized citizen. A family immigration lawyer can assist permanent residents or citizens in their petitions for the immigration of immediate or eligible relatives.

How Do Family Relationships Help Intended Immigrants?

When an individual applies for a Green Card, they can include select family members. The spouse and unmarried children (under 21 years old), including stepchildren and adopted children, of the original Green Card applicant may also apply for a Green Card. This is generally done at the same time that the original applicant applies for his Green Card. However, if the applicant has children older than 21, they may apply for a Green Card as part of a “family reunion.”

When the original applicant has become a naturalized U.S. citizen, he may employ an immigrant lawyer Pasadena to petition for the immigration of some of his immediate relatives. For immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, there are an unlimited number of Green Cards or family immigration visas available. “Immediate relatives” include:

  • Unmarried kids under the age of 21 who have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen.
  • Spouse of a U.S. citizen, including same sex couples who are legally married.
  • Parents of a U.S. citizen who is 21 or older.
  • Stepchild and stepparents if the child was under 18 when he became a stepchild.
  • Adopted children and adoptive parents if the child was younger than 16 when adopted.

Beyond the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, not every family member will be eligible for a Green Card or family immigration visa. There are different rules for permanent residents versus U.S. citizens and their ability to petition for the immigration of family members. These rules can be complicated, and an immigration lawyer Pasadena can clarify them. For example, if the family member is a U.S. citizen, they may petition for the spouse, unmarried children (under 21) and parents to immigrate. In contrast, a permanent resident’s spouse will need to apply for a Green Card as a “second preference” category, and there are limited Green Cards for that category. (See the list below). Some of these differences can be nuanced, and there are special application requirements that a family based immigration lawyer or family immigration lawyer can help you navigate.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are several preference categories for petitioning for family immigration visas. These categories are based on the nature of the individual’s relationship to the permanent resident or citizen who is petitioning for their relative’s Green Card. The preference category determines how long the process will take for any given relative. The categories are:

  • The First Preference category includes unmarried adult (over age 21) children of U.S. citizens.
  • The Second Preference (2A) includes spouses and/or unmarried children (under age 21) of permanent residents (i.e. Green Card holder).
  • The Second Preference (2B) includes unmarried children (age 21 and older) of permanent residents.
  • The Third Preference includes married children of any age of U.S. citizens.
  • The Fourth Preference includes siblings of adult U.S. citizens.
Green Cards are not for extended family members. The naturalized citizen or permanent resident should have a family based immigration lawyer petition for the immigration of relatives immediately below or above him in the family tree (e.g. parent and/or children). (The one exception is siblings of an adult U.S. citizen.) These relatives are generally the only ones eligible for a family-based Green Card. Once a relative receives his Green Card, he can later becomes a naturalized citizen and in turn petition for his eligible relatives to immigrate with a Green Card. This process takes years (5-25 years) and is further limited by any cap or limit the U.S. government may place on the issuance of Green Cards for a specific preference category of relatives. This cap tends to change annually.

Having a Green Card and becoming a permanent resident in the United States affords a great deal of freedom to immigrants. As a Green Card holder, an immigrant is welcome in all 50 states, is afforded the same rights and protections as citizens (except for voting rights), and is permitted to work anywhere and in any legal capacity, including working as a freelancer.

Contact an immigration lawyer Pasadena for information and help with petitioning for a relative’s immigration to the states as a Green Card holder.

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