Family-Based Green Card: An Ultimate Guide

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Family-based green cards are one of the most common ways that many people can obtain green cards to become permanent residents of the U.S. Family-based immigration is made easier with these green cards, and these visas account for nearly two-thirds of all green cards that are given out annually.

Becoming a permanent resident means that you are able to live and work in the United States permanently. This is why family-based green cards are so popular for those that are looking for residency in the U.S. However, many things must fall into place when beginning the application process, which we will go over below.

What Is a Family-Based Green Card?

A family-based green card is a special immigrant visa that allows the applicants, if deemed eligible, to join their close relatives in the U.S. When you are approved for this type of green card, you are able to:

  • Live in the United States permanently
  • Obtain a U.S. driver’s license
  • Work in any state
  • Travel out of the country and back in easily

However, there is a limit to these types of visas, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can issue only a certain amount. If you apply and there is already a reached limit, you will need to wait until the following year to apply for your family-based green card.

Types of Family-Based Green Cards

Regarding a family-based green card, there are two general categories they can fall into. These two family-based green card categories are immediate relatives and family preference categories. With that being said, the application processes for these two categories are very different.

Below, we will go over the difference between these two categories.

Immediate Relative Immigrant (IR) Visas

This type of family-based green card is issued to close relatives of U.S. citizens. For example, here are some of the relatives that can be considered:

  • IR-1 Visa: Spouse of a U.S. citizen
  • IR-2 Visa: A United States citizen’s unmarried child under the age of 21
  • IR-3 Visa: An orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen
  • IR-4 Visa: An orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen
  • IR-5 Visa: A United States citizen’s parent who is at least 21 years of age

Additionally, in this category, family-based green cards for parents and family-based green cards for siblings fall under this category. Due to this, if a child or young adult sponsor dies, the case becomes more complicated.

In the past, when filing a Form I-130 with a deceased parent, the green card application would be denied. However, USCIS will look into the case, and treat the application similar to other applications. But, if you do not fit into these subcategories, you could fit into the other family-based green card subcategory.

Family Preference Immigrant Visas

This subcategory is meant for certain family members. Unlike the above category, things are a bit different here. Family preference green cards include:

  • First Preference (F1): This first family preference is for unmarried sons or daughters of U.S. citizens and their minor children.
  • Second Preference (F2): This subcategory is solely for spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters who are 21 years and above of lawful permanent residents and above. Once this first group has reached the limit, the remainder in the subcategory will be allocated to unmarried sons and daughters.
  • Third Preference (F3): This category is for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens as well as their spouses and minor children.
  • Fourth Preference (F4): This is for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children. However, the petitioner must be 21 years old or above.

Eligibility Requirements for the Family-Based Green Cards

In order to be eligible for a family preference green card, you and your sponsor must establish a relationship. To do so, the applicant must obtain a legal sponsor and show ample proof of a family relationship.

The bottom line is that this process must start with filing Form I-130, commonly known as the petition for alien relatives. This form, in turn, will establish a qualifying relationship with someone in the U.S.

Here is a breakdown of what the petitioner and applicant will need to have ready. The sponsor will need to:

  1. File an I-130 form, which is the petition for alien relative
  2. Submit proof of their citizenship
  3. Submit the I-864, also known as the affidavit of support
  4. Send in biographical information

The applicant applying for the family-based green card will need to:

  1. File a Form I-485 if already in the U.S., which is commonly known as the adjustment of status form
  2. If not located in the U.S., you will need to start this process through consular processing
  3. Submit biographic information
  4. Complete the medical examination and submit the results with your application

After these are submitted, there are additional steps that one must go through, which we will explain more in detail below.

How to Apply for Family-Based Green Cards

If you are wondering how to apply for a family-based green card, we will explain more in detail the process. As stated before, filing an I-130 petition is needed.

I-130 Petition for Alien Relative

The I-130 application isn’t too complicated to fill out and submit. For starters, this petition must be filled out entirely and truthfully by the U.S. citizen you have a relationship with. Generally, this form will ask questions about your relationship with your sponsor.

When this form is finished, it will need to be submitted, with all the necessary supporting documents, to USCIS. When sending the USCIS your I-130, there is a filing fee for your I-130. From there, the petition will go to the Department of Homeland Security.

This ties in with the concept of family-based green card priority dates. Simply put, this term is used to determine an applicant’s place in the visa waiting line and when their I-130 is received.

The status of your I-130 immigration form will be known to you throughout the whole process. The general timeline for an I-130 is five to nine months but may vary depending on the case.

I-130 Is Approved, What Next?

Based on your situation, whether you are inside the U.S. or outside the U.S., you need to follow the below process.

Green Card Process for Family Members in the U.S.

Typically, this is known as the adjustment of status process. Due to this being the case, you will need to file an I-485 form with the USCIS.

Ultimately, this form is your main green card application once you have established a relationship with your sponsor visa, Form I-130. Both I-130 and I-485 forms can be submitted by immediate relatives simultaneously.

Green Card Process for Family Members Outside the U.S.

Once your I-130 form is approved, your petition will be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). It’s important to note that you are able to file Form I-130 online as well. From there, the NVC will send a package to the address on the form.

This package will contain more documents and instructions for you to complete in order to get a proper green card. Generally, within the instructions, you will be asked to undergo a medical exam. At this medical exam, all vaccinations will need to be up to date; if not, you will be able to get the mandatory vaccines.

After this is completed, the documents will be signed off by a licensed doctor, attached to your supporting green card file, and sent back to the NVC. As previously stated, the required forms should also be submitted to the NVS with your medical examination, which will be further explained in the sections below.

You will need to attend an interview, where the USCIS officer will ask countless questions about your relationship with the petitioner. These questions could include how you have met, the extent of your relationship, or anything else that is asked.

The process to get a family-based green card while outside of the country is called consular processing. This process is similar to that of the other process but can be done while living abroad. Upon filing Form I-130, USCIS will send your approved form to the necessary embassy or consulate that you are closest to.

The green card process can be completed when the form is received at the consulate closest to you. The steps following this tend to include an interview and further proof of eligibility.

As stated above, you will be required to answer basic questions within the interview. Some of the family-based green card interview questions you can be asked include:

  • Anything surrounding how you and the applicant met
  • Certain details about the wedding, if applicable
  • Relationship questions which can sometimes be considered personal
  • Anything related to crime or illegal activities done by the sponsor or applicant

Required Documentation for Family-Based Green Card

When it comes to the supporting documents for a family-based green card, there are a few things that will be needed. Below we will go over all the required documents needed for your I-130 visa:

  • A passport that is valid for at least six months after your estimated arrival in the U.S.
  • An affidavit of support from your sponsor
  • A legal birth certificate
  • If applicable, a marriage certificate or marriage termination document
  • A medical examination for,
  • Two passport photographs that meet the DOS photo requirements

Generally, these forms are all that’s needed. However, depending on the specifics of your case, more documents might be asked of you. If this is the case, simply submit what is requested in order to make the process easier and quicker.

Family-Based Green Card Processing Time

The I-130 process can vary based on each individual case. In general, there is a timeframe for how long the I-130 process takes. If you follow the correct instructions for your I-130 and pay the necessary I-130 filing fee, the timeline for your family-based green card will shorten.

Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens

The I-130 processing time for immediate relative green cards is considered to be a short processing time. These types of visas are always ready for eligible applicants. The processing time for this type of green card is around five months to a year.

Once the I-130 petition has been filled out and submitted to USCIS, along with the mandatory fees and documents, they will receive a visa number. This means that there is no waiting for a visa number that many other individuals might have to do.

The I-130 processing time for parents that have applied for green cards will be the same as that listed above.

Other Family Members of U.S. Citizens

These individuals sometimes get preference, but they must first fall into the definition of immediate relatives. For these individuals, there is no visa cap; however, the waiting time is longer. If you are applying for one of the green cards via this category, the processing time could take anywhere from five to ten years.

Family Members of Lawful Permanent Residents

If you are a legal and permanent resident of the United States, you are able to petition for a spouse or children to obtain green cards. This type of green card is a bit harder to get for eligible individuals based on its visa cap.

That being said, the processing time for a green card in this subcategory is five to ten years.

Fees to Pay for Family-Based Green Cards

When applying for and paying for a family-based green card, various fees are included. These amounts are set by USCIS and can be made payable to the U.S. embassy or consulate that you work with.

The numerous things that must be paid include:

  • Form I-130’s filing fee
  • The processing fees for Form DS-260
  • Medical examination costs
  • Vaccination fees, if applicable
  • Fees for translating documents if applicable
  • A USCIS immigrant fee after receiving your visa

These fees will vary based on where you are filing your application from. If you are currently living in the U.S. and simply adjusting your status, the expenses needed are $1,760. On the other hand, if you are living abroad, the cost of a family-based green card is $1,200.

It’s important to note that if you are applying green card from outside the U.S., you will need to pay for travel expenses and additional visa expenses when traveling to the U.S.

Don’t Wait Any Longer; Start Your Application Today!

If you have been on the fence about applying for a family-based green card, don’t be. With ImmigrationDirect, we can help you every step of the way throughout your application process. We know that if anything is lost in translations or done incorrectly, you will lose the time you’ve put into it and significant amounts of money.

Once you determine your eligibility, starting the process can be easy. But, having support matters. Contact us today if you have any questions or if you are ready to begin the family-based green card process.

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