Official Website of the United States Department of Homeland Security

Green Card for an Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen

To promote family unity, immigration law allows U.S. citizens to petition for certain qualified relatives to come and live permanently in the United States. Eligible immediate relatives include the U.S. citizen’s:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried child under the age of 21
  • Parent (if the U.S. citizen is over the age of 21)

Immediate relatives have special immigration priority and do not have to wait in line for a visa number to become available for them to immigrate because there are an unlimited number of visas for their particular categories.

For other qualified relatives that a U.S. citizen may petition for, see our Green Card for a Family Member of a U.S. Citizen page.

Get a Green Card While Inside the United States

One Step Process
Certain people are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) while inside the United States. An immediate relative relationship allows you to apply on Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to become a permanent resident at the same time your U.S. citizen petitioner files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. For more information on filing for permanent residence in one step, see our Concurrent Filing page.

Two Step Process
You still have the option to file your I-485 application any time after your petitioner files a Form I-130, for you, as long as it has not been denied. Generally, you will need to submit a copy of Form I-797, Notice of Action, with your Form I-485, that shows the Form I-130 petition is either pending or approved. 

  • Step One – Your U.S. citizen immediate relative must file the Form I-130 for you and it must be either pending or approved. 
  • Step Two – After you receive Form I-797, Notice of Action, showing that the Form I-130 has either been received by us or approved, then you may file Form I-485. When you file your I-485 application package, you must include a copy of the Form I-130 receipt or approval notice (the Form I-797). For more information on filing for permanent residence, see our Adjustment of Status page.

Get a Green Card While Outside the United States

If you are currently outside the United States and are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you can become a permanent resident through consular processing. Consular processing is when USCIS works with the Department of State to issue a visa on an approved Form I-130 petition when a visa is available. You may then travel on the visa and will officially become a permanent resident when admitted at a U.S. port of entry. For more information on consular processing for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, see the “Consular Processing” link to the left under “Green Card Processes & Procedures.”  The Department of State will notify you when you are eligible to apply for an immigrant visa.  If you do not apply for an immigrant visa within one year following notification from the Department of State, your petition may be terminated.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Turning 21 years of age. When an immediate relative child of a U.S. citizen reaches the 21 years of age, he or she generally will become a “first preference” (F1) category son or daughter (over 21 years of age) of a U.S. citizen, and will no longer have a visa immediately available. This change may result in a significant delay in adjustment of status or visa processing because he or she will now need to wait for an immigrant visa to become available. For more information, see our Visa Availability & Priority Dates page.
  • Child Status Protection Act. In certain cases, the Child Status Protection Act (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 CSPA applies to you, see the Child Status Protection Act page
  • Getting Married. If an immediate relative child under age 21 gets married, he or she can no longer be classified as an “immediate relative” and will become a “third preference” (F3) category married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and a visa would no longer be immediately 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.
Last Reviewed/Updated: 03/30/2011