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Can I Acquire a Green Card Through My Family?

How can your family help you acquire a green card?

One of the main purposes of U.S. Immigration policy is to reunite families.  Obtaining a green card through a family member is the most common way that immigrants obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States.   Not all family members may sponsor their relative for a green card though, and the wait is often lengthy.

Green Card for Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens:

U.S. citizens may petition for immigrant visas for their immediate relatives.  This category includes a citizen’s spouse, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents (so long as the U.S. citizen child is over the age of 21.)   U.S. citizens may sponsor their step-child so long as they marry the child’s parent and form a parent/child relationship before the child’s 18th birthday.  There is no limit on the number of people who can obtain a green card as an immediate relative, so immigrants who are lucky enough to obtain their green cards through this family connection are eligible to process without waiting for a visa to become available.

Adopted children usually have to follow a different route to obtain their green cards and often qualify for U.S. citizenship upon their entry to this country.   If you are in the process of adopting a foreign born child, it is best that you speak with an immigration lawyer in Clearwater as early as possible in the process to ensure that your child will be able to enter the United States in proper status.

Most immediate relatives will obtain a 10-year green card upon approval of their case.  However, if your application is based upon your marriage to a U.S. citizen and you have not celebrated your second wedding anniversary before your green card is approved, then you will be issued a 2 year green card instead.  The same would apply to applications on behalf of the U.S. citizen’s step-children.   You and your children will need to submit a form I-751 Joint Petition ( to remove the conditions on your green card before it expires.

Green Card for Family Preference Immigrants:

Family Members who do not qualify as Immediate Relatives may still have an opportunity to immigrate to the United States.  There are a number of immigrant visas available for certain family members of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents.   Unlike the visas for Immediate Relatives of U.S. citizens, there is a limit on the amount of green cards issued through family for these preference immigrant categories which often causes delays in processing.  There are per-country limitations as well, so intending immigrants from countries with a large numbers of immigrants may have to wait longer from the time that their visa is approved until the time that they are allowed to enter the United States with their green cards.

First Preference:  Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens Over the Age of 21 (F1):

Unmarried children of U.S. citizens do not qualify as Immediate Relatives if they are over the age of 21 when the immigrant visa application process starts.  Instead, they will be classified in the F1 visa preference category.  These sons and daughters of U.S. citizens must be unmarried to qualify in this category.  It does not matter if they were married before and are now divorced or widowed, the applicant just must be single now.  Unlike Immediate Relatives, applicants in this category may bring their own unmarried children under the age of 21 to the United States with them as their dependents when they immigrate.

Only 23,400 immigrant visas are issued in this category every year. Immigrants from most countries in this category are currently waiting approximately 6 years to obtain their visas.   Applicants in this category from the Philippines are waiting an average of 10 years while those coming from Mexico are waiting approximately 23 years for a visa to become available.

Second Preference:  Spouses and Unmarried Children Under the Age of 21 of Lawful Permanent Residents (F2A):

The second preference categories allow family members of Lawful Permanent Residents to obtain their green cards.  F2A preference immigrant visas are for the spouses of Lawful Permanent Residents and their unmarried children under the age of 21.  This category is current for all countries now so there is no backlog, but the norm is usually a minimum of a one year wait.

Second Preference: Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Lawful Permanent Residents Over the Age of 21 (F2B):

F2B preference immigrant visas are for the unmarried sons and daughters of Lawful Permanent Residents who are 21 years of age or older.    (There is no family visa available for Lawful Permanent Residents to petition for their married children.)  A child waiting in this category who gets married will no longer be able to obtain a second preference visa.  The average wait time for issuance of visas in this category is 5 years, however applicants from Mexico and the Philippines will need to wait much longer.  As of last notice, unmarried sons and daughters of Lawful Permanent Residents from Mexico are waiting 21 years and those from the Philippines are waiting 10 years for a visa to become available.

Third Preference:  Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens (F3):

The married children of U.S. citizens can immigrate to the United States in the F3 preference category.  Green card applicants who fall in this category may bring their spouses and minor children with them as their dependents when they immigrate. The wait in this category averages 12 years for residents of most countries, however residents of the Philippines will wait at least 20 years and those from Mexico will wait over 24 years.

Fourth Preference:  Siblings of U.S. Citizens (F4):

U.S. citizens over the age of 21 may sponsor their brothers and sisters for green cards.

Green Card for Fiancé of U.S. Citizen:

U.S. citizens can petition for their foreign fiancés to come to the U.S. so that the couple can get married by filing an I-129f form.  The fiancé will obtain a K-1 visa to enter the United States.  Within 90 days of when the fiancé enters the U.S., the couple must marry.  The fiancé can then apply for a green card.

Green Card for Widow of U.S. Citizen:

Widows and widowers of U.S. citizens may be eligible to apply for a Green Card.  If they were legally married at the time of the U.S. citizen’s death, the marriage was entered into in good faith, and the couple did not get married solely to obtain immigration benefits for the foreign spouse, then the immigrant widow or widower may self-petition as an immediate relative.   The widow will file an I-360 form.   Spouse of deceased U.S. military members who were killed in combat are entitled to additional benefits.

Application Process:

There are many variables that must be taken into account when filing for a green card through a family member.   The forms filed and the timing of those forms depend upon the nature of the relationship between the petitioning U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident family member, the age of the family member, whether the intending immigrant is inside the United States or outside of the United States, and, if in the U.S., if the family member entered the U.S. legally.  It is best to contact an immigration attorney in Clearwater to understand what needs to be done and when.

Contact Julie Beth Jouben P.A. to Learn how to get a Green Card Through Family

At the law firm of Julie Beth Jouben, P.A., we can assist you in bringing your family members to the United States.  Call Julie Beth Jouben, P.A. at 727-449-9929 to get additional information so you can make informed decisions as to the best method to reunite your family. We’re here to be your green card attorney in Clearwater, Florida!

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