Who can get a family green card?
- Spouses of a US citizen
- Parents of US citizens, if the sponsoring citizen is age 21 or older
- Children of a US citizen
- Siblings of US citizen, if the sponsoring citizen is age 21 or older
- Spouses of a permanent resident
- Unmarried children of a permanent resident
Overview of the steps
1. Get sponsored. To obtain a green card through family, a relative who is a permanent resident or citizen must sponsor their immigrant relative by filing a visa petition on their behalf. This is always the first step towards receiving a family green card, regardless of the immigrant’s current status.
2. Wait for a visa. Once the relative visa petition is approved, the immigrant must wait for an immigrant visa to become available. The waiting period could take a few months or decades depending on how many other applicants are in the US visa backlog. This is true for applicants both in or outside of the United States.
| ||Exception: Immediate relatives of a US citizen always have a visa available and can become permanent residents as soon as their applications are approved. Everyone else, however, has to wait.|
3. Apply for a green card. After an immigrant visa becomes available, the immigrant must complete a medical exam, file for adjustment of status or consular processing, and potentially attend an interview. If approved, the immigrant will officially be a permanent resident.
How long will it take?
Processing time for immigrant visa petition: 6 months or longer
Waiting time for immigrant visa to become available: 1 year or longer*
Processing time for adjustment of status/consular processing: 6 months or longer
*This depends on your preference category, Immediate relatives of a US citizen do not need to wait for a visa to become available.
| ||Tip: You can find out how far USCIS is into processing their backlog of applications by checking the visa bulletin. USCIS updates the bulletin on a monthly basis.|
How much will it cost to apply?
Average fee total
You and your sponsor will be responsible for separate fees, paid at different times during the application process. Immigrants should expect to pay $1,445. Sponsors should expect to pay $535.
Do I need a lawyer?
Now that you’ve decided to apply for a green card, you should consider if you should hire an immigration lawyer to help you with your case. As with any immigration process, there are risks and consequences that come with applying. Here’s how an immigration lawyer can help you throughout the process:
- Review your case: At the very start, a lawyer will look over your case file to make sure you are eligible for a green card. They will also help you understand what to expect, as well as the possible outcomes of the process.
- Prepare the paperwork: In addition to filling out the forms, a lawyer will help you gather all the necessary files for your application. This includes evidence of your relationship, letters of support, and any other documents you might need.
- Give advice: During the process, you may have questions or concerns about how life events affect your situation. A lawyer can help guide you through decisions and give you advice about how they may affect your application status.
- Prepare for the interview: If you are scheduled to attend an interview with USCIS, a lawyer will help you practice answering the questions that USCIS could ask you. They can come to interview with you, to make sure you are treated fairly.
- Advocate on your behalf: Throughout the whole process, a lawyer will work in your best interests toward a successful outcome.
If your circumstances are simple, and you have no criminal record or run-ins with immigration officials, you may find that you can complete the process on your own. There are many situations, however, where it is important that you speak with a lawyer before submitting anything to the government. Contact an immigration lawyer if:
- You are uncertain about your eligibility
- You have a criminal record of any kind
- You have ever been in immigration court
- You have ever been in removal proceedings
- You have ever been deported
- You are confused or unsure about any of the paperwork
Applying for a green card is often difficult and time-consuming, and like any immigration process, carries some substantial risks. Working with an experienced immigration lawyer will give you a higher chance of success and peace of mind during the process.
Tips for completing USCIS forms
All USCIS forms are available for free through the USCIS website or by calling 800-870-3676.
You can download a PDF version of the form and type in your answers electronically, or you can print it out and handwrite your answers. If you handwrite your answers, remember to use black ink and write legibly. If you make a mistake, start over with a new form. Any errors or crossed out information will delay the processing of your form.
Specific instructions for each form will vary, but remember these general tips as you complete your application:
- Supporting documents must be in English, or include an English translation.
- Submit copies of all documents unless instructed to submit the original. Documents submitted in your application will not be returned.
- If you have any attachments, make sure each attached page has your name and A-Number if available.
- Format your name and date in the exact same way on every form.
Attorneys recommend creating a cover page for your application that lists all attached forms and documents. This can help you keep your application paperwork organized and make sure USCIS sees everything you’ve included.
Once you submit your application, you should receive Form, I-797C, Notice of Action. This is a receipt that proves USCIS has received your application.