One of the most popular ways of becoming a U.S. citizen is through an immediate family member. When it comes to applying for a visa, immediate relatives are given top priority.
There are an unlimited number of visas available for family members. So, if you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you will not need to be waitlisted until a visa number becomes available. Usually, a visa should be available right away.
You are designated as an immediate relative if you are the spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen. As a child, you must be under the age of 21 and unmarried. If you are applying as the parent, the U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years of age.
You may apply for a green card either while you are in the U.S. or while you are abroad.
If you are currently in the U.S., you can complete the application process in one step: you file an I-485 and your U.S. citizen relative petitions with Form I-130. This must be done at the same time. Filing forms can be complicated, and one mistake could result in a rejection of your request. It is recommended that you seek the assistance of an attorney who is specialized in immigration to help you file these forms.
Sometimes, the petitioner (the U.S. citizen you are related to) files the I-130 early. In this case, you can still file an I-485 as long as the petitioner’s request has not been rejected. When you receive a Notice of Action that tells you that the I-130 has been approved, you can submit from I-485. You will have to include a copy of the receipt or approval notice.
If you are not currently in the U.S., but are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you have a different process to go through. First, the U.S. citizen must file form I-130 and it must be approved by USCIS. When USCIS approves of the petition, you must wait until they notify you that you are eligible to apply for a visa. When a visa is available, it will be issued to you. Once you have your visa, you can travel with it and you will become a U.S. permanent resident when you enter the U.S. If you fail to apply for a visa within one year after the Department of State has told you that you are eligible, your petition could be terminated. This entire process is known as consular processing.
Some conditions make it difficult for you to apply for a visa or green card through an immediate relative. In immigration, good timing makes all the difference. If you are applying as a child of a U.S. citizen, you must apply before you reach the age of 21. Once you pass that age, you will be moved into a different visa preference category that will make it more difficult to apply through a U.S. citizen parent. A visa may not be available to you immediately, and this will cause a delay in adjusting your status or processing your request for a green card. So, it’s important to begin the visa application process as early as possible.
On the same note, sometimes it is possible for a person to pass the age of 21 and still legally be called a “child”. Under the Child Status Protection Act, it is possible that USCIS will determine your age based on the date your parent files the I-130 for you. For example, if a parent files the form while the child is 20 years old, it may be possible to request that the child’s age be determined by that date.
Another factor that will make the immigration process lengthier and sometimes impossible is marriage. If you are under the age of 21, applying for a green card through a U.S. citizen parent, and married, then you no longer fall in the category of “immediate relative”. This means that your status will change from top priority for a visa to third priority, and a visa will not be available for you right away. It is important to keep USCIS updated on any change in your marital status after the I-130 has been filed and before you receive a visa or permanent status.
Finally, some situations we have come across specifically include:
A spouse has entered the U.S. with a different type of visa (sometimes a student visa or visitor’s visa)
The spouse of family member’s visa has expired and they are seeking a change in status or to apply for a green card through an immediate relative
Green card renewal – you can renew your green card whether it is expired or not. Past criminal convictions will affect your chances for obtaining a renewal.
If you have any questions about applying for a visa or green card through an immediate relative, please contact Immigration Attorney Phillip Kim.