Family Based US Green Card Overview

A lawful permanent resident (green card holder) is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of permanently living and working in the United States. One of the requirements of applying for US citizenship is to be a permanent resident for a continuous five years. If you want to become a lawful permanent resident based on the fact that you have a relative who is a citizen of the United States or a relative who is a lawful permanent resident, you must go through a multi-step process.

Perks of Being a Permanent Resident (Green card Holder)

As a US Permanent Resident, you have most of the rights of a United States Citizen, but there are some exceptions.

Rights

  • To live permanently in the United States provided you do not commit any actions that would make you removable (deportable) under the immigration law (section 237, Immigration and Nationality Act).
  • To be employed in the United States at any legal work of your qualification and choosing.
  • To be protected by all of the laws of the United States, your state of residence and local jurisdictions.
  • To vote in local elections where United States Citizenship is not required.

Exceptions

  • Some jobs will be limited to United States Citizens because of security concerns.
  • You may not vote in elections limited to United States Citizens.

International Travel

A Permanent Resident of the United States (a green card holder) can travel freely outside of the US. A passport from the country of citizenship is normally all that is needed. To reenter the US a Permanent Resident normally needs to present the green card (Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551) for readmission. A re-entry permit is needed for re-entry for trips greater than one year but less than two years in duration.

Green Card Expiration

The Permanent Resident Card currently is issued with a 10-year validity. You status as a Permanent Resident does not expire with the 10-year validity. Only the card expires. The card is only valid up to the expiration date and must be renewed before it expires.

There is also a conditional permanent resident card, which expires in 2 years and the holder will be deported if action is not taken. If you received your green card by marriage which was issued to you when your marriage was less than 2 years old then you most likely have a conditional permanent resident card. Find out more about Conditional Permanent Residence.

Sponsoring Relatives

A Permanent Resident can petition for some relatives to join him or her in the United States as immigrants. Those relatives are your spouse and children, regardless of age.

If you had a spouse and children when you became a Permanent Resident, they may be eligible for permanent residence through you without filing separate petitions. This depends on how you qualified for your permanent residence. You should ask an immigration officer, attorney, or voluntary help organization for advice about this.

Eligibility

Sponsor Eligibility: American National

To be eligible to sponsor a relative to immigrate to the United States you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be a citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States and be able to provide documentation proving your status.
  • You must prove that you can support your relative at 125% above the mandated poverty line. Click here to find out more information about meeting this criteria and filing the Affidavit of Support.
  • If you are a US Citizen you may petition for the following foreign national relatives to immigrate to the United States; however you must be able to provide proof of the relationships:
    • Husband or wife
    • Unmarried child under 21 years old
    • Unmarried son or daughter over 21
    • Married son or daughter of any age
    • Brother or sister, if you are at least 21 years old
    • Parent, if you are at least 21 years old.
    • If you are a lawful permanent resident you may petition for the following foreign national relatives to immigrate to the United States; however you must be able to provide proof of the relationships:
      • Husband or wife
      • Unmarried son or daughter of any age.

There are certain people you cannot file this petition for. Please refer to Form I-130 for further details.

Applicant Eligibility: Foreign National

To be eligible for lawful permanent residence based on a family relationship you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must have a relative who is a United States citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States who can provide documentation proving their status and is willing to sponsor you for lawful permanent residency by filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.
  • Your relative must prove they can support you by providing documentation that their income is 125% above the mandated poverty line for their family, including you and all other sponsored family members. Click here to find out more information about meeting this criteria and filing the Affidavit of Support.
  • If your relative is a US Citizen and they can legally prove you share one of the following relationships, you may be eligible for lawful permanent residency, please see below for preference category information.
    • Husband or wife
    • Child under 21 years old
    • Unmarried son or daughter over 21
    • Married son or daughter of any age
    • Brother or sister if you are at least 21 years old
    • Parents if you are at least 21 years old.
  • If your relative is a lawful permanent resident and they can legally prove you share one of the following relationships, you may be eligible for lawful permanent residence, please see below for preference category information:
    • Husband or wife
    • Unmarried son or daughter of any age.

Note: The definition of "immediate relative" includes widows of U.S. citizens, provided that the foreign national was the spouse of the citizen for at least 2 years prior to the citizen's death and was not legally separated from the citizen at the time of his/her death.

Immigrant Visa Ineligibility

The immigration laws of the United States, in order to protect the health, welfare, and security of the United States, prohibit the issuance of a visa to certain applicants. Examples of applicants who must be refused visas are those who:

  • Have a communicable disease such as tuberculosis
  • Have a dangerous physical or mental disorder
  • Are drug addicts
  • Have committed serious criminal acts
  • Are terrorists, subversives, members of a totalitarian party, or former Nazi war criminals
  • Have used illegal means to enter the United States
  • Are ineligible for citizenship

Note: Some former exchange visitors must live abroad for two years. Physicians who intend to practice medicine must pass a qualifying exam before receiving immigrant visas.

Additional Resources

Refer to the following articles for additional information about certain types of family based green cards, including green card for spouse and green card for parents.

To learn more about applying for family based green card, visit: