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Family of U.S. Citizens

This page describes how you (a U.S. citizen) may petition for certain family members to receive either a green card, a fiancee visa or a K-3/K-4 Visa based on your relationship. (If your relative wishes to naturalize or obtain proof of citizenship, see the "Citizenship" section of our website.)

Table: Relatives for Whom You (U.S. Citizen) May Petition 

Type of Relative for Whom You May PetitionImmigration BenefitGuidanceRelated Forms
Green Card (Permanent Residence)How Do I Help My Relative Become a Permanent Resident? (Guide for U.S. Citizens)
  • A fiancé(e) residing outside the United States and children of fiancé(e) under 21
Fiancé(e) VisaHow Do I Help My Fiance(é) Become a Permanent Resident?
  • Spouse
  • Children of spouse (unmarried and under 21)
K-3/K-4 Nonimmigrant VisaK-3/K-4 Nonimmigrant Visas

Application Process: Green Card (Permanent Residence)

To petition for a family member to receive a green card (permanent residence), you begin by filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. This form establishes the family relationship that exists between you and your relative. Sometimes the I-130 can be filed together with an application for permanent residence, officially know as Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This is discussed below.

Which Relatives May I petition for?

Immediate RelativesOther Family Members

The term “immediate relative(s)” is used to define certain immigrant relatives of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives include:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Children (unmarried and under 21) of U.S. citizens
  • Parents of U.S. citizens (The petitioning citizen must be 21 or older.)

For immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, visas are always available, which means that your family member does not need to wait in line for a visa. Immediate relatives who are in the United States can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status at the same time as Form I-130. For more information on how your relative can apply to adjust status (i.e. get a green card) while he or she is in the United States, see the "How Do I Help My Relative Become a Permanent Resident?" guide.

Preference categories apply to family members who are not immediate relatives. The visas alloted for these categories are subject to annual numerical limits. A visa becomes available to a preference category based on the priority date (the date the Form I-130 was filed). Preference categories are grouped as follows:

  • First preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (adult means 21 or older.)
  • Second Preference (2A): Spouses of green card holders, unmarried children (under 21) of permanent residents
  • Second Preference (2B): Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters (any age) of U.S. citizens
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens

For current wait times, see the “USCIS Processing Time Information” page on this website and the “Visa Bulletin” page on the U.S. Department of State website. For more information on priority dates, see the “Visa Availability and Priority Dates” page.

What Happens Next?

  • If your relative is already in the United States, he or she may apply to adjust status to become a green card holder (permanent resident) after a visa number becomes available using Form I-485. 
  • If your relative is outside the United States, your petition will be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will forward your petition to the appropriate U.S. consulate when a visa becomes available and your relative will be notified about how to proceed. This process is referred to as “Consular Processing.” 
  • Your family member’s preference category will determine how long he or she will have to wait for an immigrant visa number. Once you have filed a petition, you can check its progress the “My Case Status” page. For visa availability information, see the “Visa Bulletin” page on the U.S. Department of State website.

For more information on becoming a green card holder, see the “Adjustment of Status” (for processing within the United States) and “Consular Processing” (for processing overseas) pages. For more information on green cards, see the “Green Card” section.

NOTE: A visa petition (Form I-130 or Form I-129F) is only used to demonstrate a qualifying relationship. An approved petition DOES NOT grant any benefit, it simply creates a place in line for visa processing.

Members of the Military

If you or a member of your family is in the U.S. military, special conditions may apply. See the “Military” section of the website.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 05/01/2014