A family-based or family-sponsored green card allows non-U.S. citizens to permanently live and work in the United States.  Family-based green cards are available to individuals with a qualifying relationship with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Obtaining a family-based green card can be complex and time-consuming, involving multiple steps and extensive documentation. To initiate the process, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident must submit a petition on behalf of their relative to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The USCIS will review the petition. Whether the applicant for the green card is in or outside the United States, separate procedures depend on where the applicant resides. 

If the applicant is in the United States, the applicant is applying for an adjustment of status to permanent residency to obtain a green card.  If the applicant is outside the United States, the petition will be forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing. The NVC will then collect additional documentation from the applicant and determine initially if the applicant is documentarily qualified.  If the NVC documentarily qualifies the applicant, they will schedule an interview at the U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country.

The interviewee must exhibit eligibility for a family-based green card by proving a valid association with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, passing a medical exam, and fulfilling other requirements.

Who is eligible for a family-based green card?

The most common categories of family-based green cards include immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and family preference categories. Close relatives of U.S. citizens include spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 years of age. This category has no yearly visa limit, and the processing times are usually shorter than other categories.

Family preference categories include adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens, along with the spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents. The number of visas issued annually is limited in these categories, and processing times can be lengthy.

Passing a medical examination and satisfying particular eligibility criteria are necessary to qualify for a family-based green card. Meeting such requirements may involve:

  • Demonstrating the family relationship
  • Providing evidence of financial stability.
  • Passing a criminal background check.

Certain factors can disqualify an applicant from receiving a green card, such as a criminal record or a history of immigration violations. Furthermore, applicants are mandated by the USCIS to prove that they will not become dependent on public funds or become a financial burden on the government while residing in the United States.

During the interview, the applicant must provide evidence that they satisfy the eligibility criteria for a family-based green card. Upon approval, the applicant will be granted a visa to travel to the United States to obtain their green card.

How long does a family-based green card take?

The duration of the processing period for a family-based green card may vary depending on several factors, such as the applicant’s country of origin, green card category, and the number of applications processed at the USCIS.

Immediate relative green cards, which include spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens, are generally processed more quickly than other categories.

Family preference green cards, which include adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens and spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents, can take significantly longer to process. The USCIS estimates that the processing time for a family preference green card can be many years, depending on the category and the applicant’s country of origin. The processing times can also change monthly depending on the visa availability.

The U.S. State Department publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin, which provides information on the availability of visas in each category. The Visa Bulletin is divided into two sections: Final Action Dates and Dates for Filing. Final Action Dates indicate the priority date of each category’s applications currently being processed. In contrast, dates for Filing indicate when applications can be submitted. Therefore, applicants should check the Visa Bulletin regularly to track the progress of their application.

In summary, a family-based green card is the ability of U.S. Citizens and Current Green Card holders/permanent residents to petition for their family members to live permanently in the United States.   Acquiring a family-based green card can be complex. You should work with an experienced immigration attorney to navigate this process successfully.