How to Help a Relative Get a Green Card
If you are a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States you are able to petition for your immigrant relative(s) to become legal permanent residents, in other words, help your relative get a Green Card. Whether they currently live in the U.S. or not, successful sponsorship will help your relative get a green card–the photo identification given as proof that you are allowed to legally live and work in the United States. A green card also puts them one step away from becoming a naturalized citizen, and citizenship comes with many benefits including the ability to vote and freedom from the threat of deportation.
The process begins when a sponsor (the citizen or permanent resident) fills out and submits a form proving their sponsorship eligibility and their relationship to the applicant (immigrant relative). There are several factors that may affect eligibility, wait times, and processing – including the type of relationship (certain family members are given priority), whether the relative currently lives inside or outside the U.S., and the petitioner’s status (green card holder or citizen).
First, we’ll tell you about the main form the sponsor uses to petition for their relative, then we’ll do an overview of some of the different situations where the form is used so you can find the answers that will get you started on the application process and your relative get a green card.
Depending on the situation you’re in, your green card could get to your relative in around 8 months, but depending on visa availability it could take years. Therefore, it is important to get started as soon as possible. When you are ready, our software will walk you through the application step-by-step. Get started today.
Step 1. Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
When you are looking to help your relative get a green card and the green card is being sponsored for legal permanent residence in the United States, the sponsor will first file Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The sponsor – the U.S. citizen or green card holder – will fill out the form to prove their citizenship/legal residency and their relationship to the relative. The fee for submitting the form is $535. Note that a separate I-130 form must be filled out for each relative.
For any forms submitted to USCIS, you want to ensure the information is complete and accurate to avoid major delays and denial. Road to Status’s software will help you check for and avoid these mistakes in helping your relative get a green card. If there is an inaccuracy in your application, you must reapply..
Now that we’ve covered the I-130 form to get you started, let’s review other circumstances that will determine who is eligible for sponsorship, the process, and the approximate wait time. There are two main categories: if your relative is currently living in the United States or abroad.
If your relative (the person who will receive the green card) resides INSIDE the United States…
Relatives already living in the U.S. legally will submit Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status after the I-130 application has been approved. In some cases, the immigrant relative may file Form I-485 at the same time as Form I-130, if the sponsor is a US citizen and the relative is a parent, minor child, or spouse of the US citizen. Though, for most cases, the applicant must wait until Form I-130 has been approved before filing a Form I-485.
Once a petition (Form I-130) has been filed on the relative’s behalf and you’ve received a notification of its approval, your relative can file their USCIS Form I-485 (the application for a green card). The USCIS filing fee per form is $1140. In addition to the form, USCIS requires a biometrics exam to take fingerprints and photographs of the applicant. The biometrics exam fee is $85, so the total fee is $1225.
For U.S. Citizen Sponsors
It is important to know that obtaining a visa (green card) in the United States depends on availability. For the following relatives of U.S. citizens, there is no limit of visas due to special priority.
- Unmarried children under the age of 21
- Parents (if the citizen is over the age of 21)
Once your application is approved by USCIS, a visa will immediately be granted for your relative, and they can immediately apply for legal permanent residence. Further, if you are the sponsor of a relative in one of these above categories, you are eligible to file the I-130 and I-485 together to reduce your waiting time before your relative’s green card is approved.
Note: Work Authorization and Travel While the Form I-485 Application is Pending
In some cases, the green card applicant (your relative) may file Form I-765, Application for Work Authorization to obtain work authorization in the United States while the application is pending. If the applicant needs to travel outside the U.S. while the green card application is pending, then they will need to submit a Form I-131, Application for a Travel Document before leaving the country, or they will be deemed to have abandoned their pending I-485 application and will have to file again, and could be refused entry to the US if not in possession of another valid immigration status.
For siblings, children over the age of 21, and married children of U.S. citizens, there will be a wait time before a visa is issued. The wait time depends on the number of accepted applicants versus the number of visas available, the limits set on each country, and the number of visas available for the category (categories are based on your relation to the sponsor, “sibling” for example). (Link to information about visa wait times here?)
For Green Card Holder Sponsors
Green card holders (legal permanent residents) are only able to sponsor their spouse and unmarried children (of any age). The sponsor will file form I-130, but there are limited visas available for this category. Once your I-130 petition is approved, your relative will need to check the Visa Availability and Priority Dates from USCIS to determine the wait time for an available visa. Once your relative’s priority date is current, then they will file form I-485 to apply for their permanent residence.
If the permanent resident sponsor naturalizes and becomes a citizen while the application is pending, make sure to notify the National Visa Center immediately. This will change the family preference category and could speed up the wait for a visa.
If your relative resides OUTSIDE the United States…
Both U.S. citizen and green card holder sponsors will begin by filing form I-130 with USCIS. Instead of filing Form I-485, USCIS will work with the U.S. Department of State to approve the visa application through a process called Consular Processing. Consular Processing is for those who are living abroad and want to gain permission to permanently live in the United States before moving here.
The same categories of relationships also apply here when determining if a visa is available to your relative. Once the I-130 is approved, then the Department of State will begin the next steps of consular processing only when your relative’s priority date is current. If you are a U.S. citizen applying for your spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or your parent, then the visa will always be available and the Department of State will immediately begin the next steps. If you are U.S. citizen and your relative is your sibling, your married child, or your adult child, then they will have to wait until a visa is available, and their priority date is current. If you are a permanent resident, your relative will have to wait until a visa is available and their priority date is current.
Your relative will need to wait outside of the United States until their application has been approved by USCIS and the State Department has sent their case to a US Consulate in their home country so that they can be interviewed. Upon completion of a successful interview and approval of the visa, you have helped your relative get a green card and they will be authorized to enter the United States as a permanent resident. Their green card will be mailed to them in the U.S. after they are admitted.
We know that there is a lot of information to consider when completing immigration applications. We’re here to make the process easier for you. Help your relative get a green card today.