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5 things to know when applying for a family based green card

By George Lake

Here are the top 5 things to know when applying for a Family Based Green Card:


Some family members can be sponsored by their US citizen or Green Card holding relatives so that they can obtain Green Cards or Legal Permanent Residency. Those with a Green Card may live in the United States and obtain employment authorization.

A US citizen may file an immediate relative petition to sponsor the following family members for a Green Card:

  • Spouse (IR-1)
  • Unmarried child under 21 (IR-2)
  • Orphan adopted abroad (IR-3)
  • Orphan to be adopted (IR-4)
  • Parent who is at least 21 (IR-5)

Remember that you will have to prove the nature of your relationship of the person you are filing for such as marriage certificates, birth certificates and adoption documents.

Under some circumstances, a US citizen may be able to file their Green Card paperwork for their relative abroad. Generally, the US citizen should be living with the relative they wish to sponsor and be lawfully present in the country in which they reside. While this isn’t always possible, it may be able to significantly reduce the wait times for your Green Card. To find out if you are eligible its best to consult with a Family Green Card attorney.


The abovementioned categories are Immediate Relatives and so they may file for Adjustment of Status concurrently with their petition (more on that below). Those with a more distant relationship to the US Citizen sponsoring or who are related to a Green Card holder who is sponsoring a family member are in one of the Family Preference categories. There are only a limited number of these available per year. The Family Preference categories are:

  • Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children.
  • Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of Green Card holders.
  • Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children.
  • Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age.

You may notice that it could be possible to slip into a less advantageous position if you are filed for as a child and you turn older than 21. If this applies to you, check the Child Status Protection Act. The age of a child of a US citizen freezes on the date the petition is filed. At the same time, is a Green Card holder naturalizes before the child turns 21, the child’s age freezes on the date of the parent’s naturalization.


You can check USCIS processing times online. If you are in a Family Preference category then you may have to wait significantly longer than this. There are only around 480,000 Green Cards available in these categories and demand far out strips supply. If you are in this situation you will receive a priority date. Your priority date is the date your petition is received. You will then need to check the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin. Every month the Department of State publishes the priority dates which have become current. Once your priority date is current you can apply for a Green Card.

In some circumstances it is possible for a US citizen or Green Card holding spouse to access a fast track way to sponsor their spouse for a Green Card. Read more about this here: How to Fast Track your I-130 Petition for a Family Based Green Card

Usually the cut off dates on the Visa Bulletin move forward in time. Sometimes they go backwards. This is called visa retrogression. This happens when more people apply for a visa in a certain category or from a certain country than there are visas available that month. It usually happens towards the end of the fiscal year. If this happens to you, don’t worry. When a new supply of visa numbers becomes available on October 1 the situation usually resolves itself.


As well as information about the person sponsoring and the person being sponsored for a Green Card, you will need documents such as:

  • Passports
  • Marriage certificates
  • Birth certificates
  • Tax transcripts of the sponsor

If a spouse wishes to obtain a Green Card they may also have to show evidence of a bona fide marriage to the person sponsoring.

There are several fees that must be paid when applying for a Green Card:

  • I-130 Petition fee: $535 If Inside the United States when applying
  • I-485 filing fee: $1,225
  • DS-261 fee: $445
  • Medical/vaccination fees: varies If outside the United States when applying
  • Immigrant Visa fee: $325
  • Immigrant fee: $220
  • Medical/vaccination fees: varies


While the majority of Family Based Green Card applications are approved, it is always possible for an application to be denied. Common reasons that a Green Card application may be denied include:

  • Not being able to show the legitimate nature of the relationship between the sponsor and the applicant. This is especially true for those from countries where it is difficult to obtain the relevant documents.
  • Prior criminal history.
  • Prior immigration violations such as entering the United States illegally or overstaying a visa.

If you are worried about one of the above or any other aspect of your Family Green Card case, it may be a good idea to speak with a Family Green Card Attorney before making your application.

Green Cards may be revoked at any time should they be found to have been misused. Common reasons a Green Card may be revoked include:

  • Committing a crime
  • Establishing your primary residence outside of the United States
  • Having found to have committed fraud during the application process.


The Green Card process can be long and complex. If you would like to discuss any aspect of the process please feel free to contact George Lake. If you know that you would like to start the process and would like the assistance of an experience Family Green Card Attorney please go to our Family Green Card Page to get started.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes and is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice.

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