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Green Card for a Family Member of a U.S. Citizen

Is Your Family Member an "Immediate Relative?"

“Immediate relatives” of a U.S. citizen are defined as a spouse, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents. Immediate relatives always have a visa number immediately available. To learn more, see the “Green Card for an Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen” page.

Family Preference Category

If the family member of the U.S. citizen is not an immediate relative, then the U.S. citizen may still be able to sponsor them via what is called a “family preference category.”  Eligible relatives include:

  • Unmarried sons or daughters over the age of 21
  • Married child(ren) of any age
  • Brothers and sisters (if the U.S. citizen petitioner is over the age of 21)

Congress has limited the number of relatives who may immigrate under these categories each year so there is usually a waiting period before an immigrant visa number becomes available.

Get a Green Card While Inside the United States

If you are currently in the United States and are one of the specified categories of relatives of a U.S. citizen in a preference category, you may be able to become a permanent resident in two steps.

  • Step One – Your U.S. citizen family member (sponsor) must file the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for you and it must be approved. You must wait for your priority date in your immigrant visa category to become current. Your priority date is the date when the Form I-130 is properly filed (with correct fee and signature) on your behalf by your U.S. citizen relative. For more information on priority dates, see the “Visa Availability & Priority Dates” page.
  • Step Two – Once the priority date in your visa category is current, you may file for Adjustment of Status with Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.  Adjustment of Status is the process you go through to become a Permanent Resident. For more information, see the “Adjustment of Status” page.

Get a Green Card While Outside the United States

If you are currently outside the United States and are one of the specified categories of relatives of a U.S. citizen in a preference category, you can become a permanent resident through consular processing. Consular processing is when we work with the U.S. Department of State to issue a visa on an approved Form I-130 petition when a visa is available. In this process the Department of State will issue you a visa. If approved, you may then travel on the visa and will officially become a permanent resident when admitted at a U.S. port of entry. For information on consular processing see the "Consular Processing” page.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA). In certain cases, the CSPA may allow you to retain the classification of “child” even if you have reached age 21. Generally, your age is “frozen” as of the date your U.S. citizen parent files Form I-130 for you. To determine if the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) applies to you, see the “Child Status Protection Act” page.
  • Getting Married. If you are the unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and you get married prior to becoming a permanent resident, then you no longer qualify as an “Unmarried Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen” and will convert to the category of “Married Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen.” This change in categories may result in a significant delay in your immigrant visa becoming available. You must notify us of any change in your marital status after Form I-130 has been filed for you and prior to becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa. For more information on priority dates, see the “Visa Availability & Priority Dates” page. 
Last Reviewed/Updated: 08/29/2013