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Family Based Immigration

This article provides answers to common questions about family-based immigration. Specifically, it discusses getting a "green card" for a family member. This article was written by American Gateways.

Who can petition for a family member to come to the United States and/or obtain a green card?

United States citizens can petition for their spouses, parents, children, and siblings. Lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can petition for their spouses and unmarried children.

The steps and requirements for getting a green card differ for each person, and depend on the petitioner’s immigration status and relationship to the family member. There are several things that will be considered, such as:

  • If the person requesting (the petitioner) is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident;
  • The relationship between the immigrant and the U.S. citizen (or lawful permanent resident) petitioner (parent, spouse, brother, etc.);
  • The country where the immigrant is from;
  • If the immigrant has ever been in the U.S. illegally.

Immigration law is complicated and making mistakes can be serious. If your family member is in the U.S. without legal status, and files an improper application for a green card, they risk deportation. Talk to an immigration attorney before you do anything.

Getting a green card for a family member of a U.S. citizen

The process for getting a green card for a family member depends on if that family member is an “immediate relative.” See "Who is an 'immediate relative?'" below.

Who is an “immediate relative?”

The following are considered "immediate relatives" and potentially eligible for a green card/lawful permanent resident status:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens;
  • Parents of U.S. citizens who are more than 21 years old;
  • Unmarried child (under 21 years old) of a U.S. citizen. 

How would a U.S. Citizen get a green card for an immediate relative?

Follow these instructions to apply for a green card for an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen: 


If your immediate relative has previously lived in the U.S. without any legal status, they may be ineligible for a green card, or they may require a waiver, depending on the circumstances. Consult an immigration attorney before you file any immigration application. 

Follow this set of instructions from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if you are a U.S. citizen applying for an unmarried child over 21, a married child, or a sibling over 21:


How would a lawful permanent resident get a green card for a family member?

Follow the instructions at the link below from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if you are a permanent resident applying for a spouse, unmarried child under 21, or an unmarried child over 21:


Does it matter what country my relative is from?

Yes. Each country is only allowed a certain number of visas per year.

There are often more visa petitions filed for citizens of China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines than the number of visas available to those countries. People from those countries often have to wait longer for a visa.

Current wait times can range anywhere from two to 24 years depending on your relative’s country of origin; your status in the U.S.; and the type of family relationship the immigration is based on. The wait is determined by your priority date and the visa bulletin.

What is a priority date? How do I know what my “priority date” is?

The priority date determines when a visa is available, and you are able to move forward in the process. Your priority date is listed on your family petition receipt or approval notice.

What is the Visa Bulletin? How do I read the Visa Bulletin?

Each month, the United States Department of State publishes a visa bulletin that lists the current priority dates for each category by country. The Visa Bulletin covers both family-based immigration and employment-based immigration. When checking the Visa Bulletin for your family member, you should find the family chart and the preference category (F1, F2A, F2B, F3, or F4) for the family member you are applying for.

  • If your family member is immigrating from one of the countries listed at the top of the chart, find the priority date below that matches the preference category for your family member.
  • If your family member is not from one of the countries listed at the top, use the dates in the “All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed” category.
  • If your priority date on your family petition receipt or approval notice is before the date listed in the Visa Bulletin, there is a visa available for your family member.
  • If your priority date in the I-130 receipt is on or after the listed date, there is not yet a visa available for your family member and you must keep waiting.

Keep in mind that the dates listed on the Visa Bulletin depend on the number of applications that were received from the different countries for the different categories. The dates on the Visa Bulletin do not move chronologically. For example, if on September 1, 2012, the priority date listed for your category is September 1, 2016, then that does not mean that a visa will be available in four years. For many months, the date on the Visa Bulletin will not change or only change a few days—and it may even move backward. In the example above, four years gives you a general idea of the wait time.

Where can I find the Visa Bulletin?

The Visa Bulletin can be found at https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin.htmlIt is updated every month.