To begin, what is a green card? Officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, it is proof of a person’s lawful permanent residency in the United States. A green card demonstrates that the cardholder is living in the United States legally. The United States government has therefore granted the green card holder the authorization to live and work in the country permanently.

There are several different ways that a person can apply to receive a green card so that they can be a permanent resident of the United States.

The ways in which a person can receive a green card is through employment, holding the status of a “special immigrant” like a religious worker, or for humanitarian reasons like having status as an asylee or refugee or being a human trafficking or crime victim. These paths are just a few of the many ways one can obtain a green card.

But one of the most common ways people can obtain permanent residency is through a family member. If the person seeking this status is an “immediate relative” of the citizen or permanent resident, then they could be eligible to obtain a green card through that relative.

According to the United States government’s US Immigration and Citizenship Services, an immediate relative is defined as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, the unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen, or the parent of a U.S. citizen (21 years or old). Many times, this means that the family member can petition on their behalf.

There are many people living in the United States and abroad whose parents have U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency. Clients frequently ask us during consultations if a parent with U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency can petition to obtain permanent resident status, or a green card, for their child.

Generally, the eligibility criteria of the adult child hinges on whether or not they are married and whether or not they are under the age of 21.

Please see a breakdown below to determine whether a family-based petition filed for a green card by your parent on your behalf is an option for you.

My parent is a U.S. citizen. Can they petition to obtain a green card for me?

Yes.

An immigrant visa or green card is immediately available for the children of United States citizens. For immigration purposes, children are considered “unmarried people under the age of 21.”

If you are over the age of 21 and unmarried, you are eligible to seek residency in this manner. This category is known as “first preference” or F1. Keep in mind that you will have to wait for your priority date to become current before you can apply for your immigrant visa, so it is not immediately available.

If you are over the age of 21 and married, which is known as third preference (F3),  you are also eligible to seek residency and obtain a green card in this manner. You will also have to wait for your priority date to become current before you may apply for your immigrant visa.

My parent is a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. Can they petition to obtain a green card for me?

Maybe.

A green card is not necessarily immediately available for the children of lawful permanent residents. There are certain limitations in this case.

If you are 21 years or older and unmarried, you would fall into the second preference, or F2B, category. Your lawful permanent resident parent may petition for you to obtain a green card, however, you will have to wait for your priority date to become current before you are able to receive it.

If you are under 21, unmarried, and have a parent who is a permanent resident, you would fall into the F2A second preference category of eligibility, meaning that you would be able to seek a green card as a child of a resident.

At present, the priority date is current for the children of lawful permanent residents, and an immigrant visa is immediately available for the unmarried adult children of lawful permanent residents.

If you are 21 years or older and married, your lawful permanent resident parent cannot petition to obtain a green card for you; however, your parent may petition for you once they become a U.S. citizen.

To check whether a priority date is current, you may refer to the Visa Bulletin on the United States State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs webpage.

I am currently outside of the United States. What can I do to start the green card process?

Many times the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is living outside of the United States. This geographic factor does not necessarily impact your eligibility to obtain a green card.

But if you are currently living outside of the United States, the USCIS recommends that you go through the “Consular Processing” path to obtain your green card. This means that you must visit a State Department office to apply for permanent resident status.

But if you are already in the United States, you do not need to travel to your home country to begin the green card process. You can seek a green card through the “Adjustment of Status” path.

What are some of the forms that I must fill out for the green card process?

After you determine your eligibility for permanent residency, you will then need to fill out the necessary forms to continue the process. Depending upon your own unique circumstances, there might be a few different forms you will need to complete.

Whether you are seeking an adjustment of status or are petitioning through family preference, you will need to complete the I-485 form, which is the Application of Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Depending upon your circumstances, you would apply as a principal applicant or a derivative applicant.

The principal applicant is the person who is seeking residence for themselves. The derivative applicant, however, is applying through a family member’s status, like a spouse or a child. You can read more about filling out the application on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

In cases of permanent residents or U.S. citizens filing on behalf of a family member, the permanent resident must fill out the I-130 form, or the Petition for Alien Relative form. While this particular document does not declare permanent residency yet, it is the first step in the process. It is the way to establish proof of your relationship.

It is also important to note that there is a filing fee depending upon your situation. In addition to a possible fee, you must also provide all relevant documentation and evidence upon filing for a green card. In order to stay up-to-date on the status of your application, you can create an online account on the USCIS website.

The Takeaway on Obtaining a Green Card

Seeking lawful permanent residence in the United States is not an easy process. There are many factors to consider, especially when choosing the family preference path.

These factors include your family member’s status, specifically whether they are a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Another factor to consider is whether you are currently residing in the United States or not; the process for obtaining a green card does differ if you live abroad.

When undertaking a process such as this, it is also important to obtain the correct paperwork so that you can get a green card in due course without delays. Sometimes the application process can be overwhelming and stressful, but with the right guidance, you can achieve your dreams.

Rest assured that if you do choose to obtain a green card via a family member, you do have options. If you have questions about your journey toward citizenship, or obtaining a green card, reach out to us at Zambrano & Ruiz Immigration Attorneys for a free consultation. We’d love to hear from you.