Any person seeking to immigrate legally to the United States, for whatever purpose, can begin the process by applying for a green card. Formerly known as a permanent resident card, a green card allows approved foreign nationals to live and work within the United States permanently for a standard amount of time. The USCIS issues green cards for a variety of purposes, including familial relations, marriage, and/or career opportunities. Once a person receives a green card, they are a lawful permanent resident (LPR). A foreign national must hold LPR status for at least 3-5 years before applying for naturalization.
In order to gain a green card and LPR status, you must meet a certain set of eligibility requirements. Applying for a green card can be tricky, and simple mistakes can lead to a delay in processing or even complete denial of your request. Because of the elaborate nature of the green card application process, it is safest to hire an experienced immigration attorney. They can guide you through each step and complete all requirements and paperwork on your behalf. The immigration lawyers at Davis & Associates are prepared to appropriately handle any obstacle you may face during your green card application.
Green Card Eligibility Categories
The United States Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) lists several “eligibility categories” for green card applicants. Eligibility categories typically describe either your connection to a person or entity in the United States or your status as a foreign national that merits special consideration, such as a request for asylum. Depending upon your eligibility category, you will have to fill out different paperwork and may be subject to varying requirements.
We’ve listed each USCIS eligibility category below. You can acquire a green card through:
- Special Immigrant Status
- Refugee or Asylee Status
- Human Trafficking and Crime Victim Status
- Victims of Abuse Status
- Other Categories
In This Article
This article specifically addresses those who wish to apply via the first category, “green card through family,” and will answer the following questions:
- Who is eligible to apply for a green card through family?
- What type of familial relationship does the USCIS define as “immediate”?
- What family-based preference immigrant categories exist?
- Who can self-petition for a green card through family?
- What are the basic green card eligibility requirements for applicants through family?
Who Can Apply For A Green Card Through Family?
If you or a loved one plan to apply for a green card through familial connections, you must be either a relative of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, a fiancé(e) or widow(er) of a U.S. citizen, or a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) eligible self-petitioner.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are spouses, unmarried children under 21, or parents (as defined by the USCIS). These applicants receive priority during the immigration and green card application process. All other eligible relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are subject to family-based preference immigrant categories, which are ranked in descending order on the USCIS website:
- First preference (F1) – unmarried adult children (21 years or older) of U.S. citizens
- Second preference (F2A) – spouses and unmarried children (under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents (LPRs)
- Second preference (F2B) – unmarried adult children (21 years or older) of lawful permanent residents (LPRs)
- Third preference (F3) – married children of U.S. citizens
- Fourth preference (F4) – siblings of adult U.S. citizens (21 years or older)
Fiancé(E)S Of U.S. Citizens
Fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for a green card via a K-1 nonimmigrant visa. Additionally, any unmarried children under 21 of the K-1 nonimmigrant visa holder are eligible for a K-2 nonimmigrant visa. In order to travel to the United States, the visa must be in place and marriage must occur within 90 days of admission. Once a K-1 nonimmigrant visa holder arrives in the US and marries their petitioner, they may apply for a green card via adjustment of status.
Widow(Er)S Of U.S. Citizens
Widow(er)s of U.S. citizens may apply for a green card if (a) they were married to the citizen at their time of death and (b) they can provide material evidence of a good faith marriage to the deceased. The USCIS considers Widow(er)s immediate relatives of their deceased spouses and treat them with the same priority as those whose spouses are still alive. In this case, applicants self-petition via Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.
VAWA Eligible Persons
Finally, under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), certain persons who were the victims of abuse by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR)may be eligible to apply for a green card. The USCIS defines these persons as abused spouses, whether current or former, parents, and children of U.S. citizens. Also included are the abused spouses, ex-spouses, and children of LPRs. Like eligible widow(er)s, VAWA-eligible applicants may self-petition via Form I-360 without the knowledge of the offending U.S. citizen or LPR.
Review Of Eligible Persons
Again, to be eligible for a green card through family, you or a loved one must fit one of the following descriptions provided by the USCIS:
- Immediate or close relative of a U.S. citizen
- Immediate relative of a lawful permanent resident (LPR)
- Fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or the fiancé(s) child
- Widow(er) of a U.S. citizen
- VAWA self-petitioner
If you are not sure if you or a loved one matches the description of one of the above categories, you may need an experienced immigration lawyer. You can talk with one of the skilled attorneys at Davis & Associates when you schedule a free consultation today.
Basic Eligibility Requirements – Forms
All persons entitled to apply for a green card through family still must meet all eligibility requirements during their application process. While specific requirements vary based on category, all necessary forms, identification papers, location and familial requirements must be met in order to properly process a green card application. For example, Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status is required for all green card applicants. Additionally, those with living relatives who are not protected under VAWA must submit an I-130 Form, Petition for Alien Relative completed by the family member who is sponsoring the applicant’s immigration request. If a living relative does not exist or the applicant is protected under VAWA, self-petition is possible via Form I-360 as discussed previously.
Additional requirements may include:
- Presence in the United States at the time of filing
- No applicable bars to adjustment apply
- Affidavit of Support
- Availability of applicable visa(s)
Additional Questions About Green Card Requirements?
If you have questions regarding the specific eligibility requirements for your familial category, you can find specific requirements on the USCIS green card website, where this information was sourced. Because of the precise requirements of each application, and the nuanced situations facing incoming immigrants, any potential applicant or sponsor should contact an expert immigration attorney. Often, attorneys will provide free initial consultations. During these, they can help design a course of action and outline any associated fees. Hiring an attorney to aid with a green card application can provide priceless guidance and relief during an already stressful time.
Hire An Expert Green Card Attorney
Green cards are an essential piece of your immigration to the United States, as they are the key to LPR status and eventual naturalization. It is wise to invest in your future by hiring a professional and knowledgeable immigration attorney to represent your interests. An immigration lawyer will correctly complete and file your green card application. They can also provide appropriate counsel and representation should any challenges or conflicts arise.
Worried about your green card eligibility, ready to apply for a green card, or want more information? Contact Davis & Associates today to set up a free consultation with an expert immigration attorney.