Step by Step Process for Getting Family Based Green Card

Family Based Green Card Process

Step 1: The United States Citizen Relative Files for I-130 Petition

The first step is for the relative who is a US citizen is to file the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and the USCIS must approve the immigrant visa petition. This petition is filed by the relative (sponsor) and must be accompanied by proof of relationship to the requesting relative (applicant), and other documents. This petition is to be filed by the US Citizen sponsor in the United States at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Download Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
Find out more about the Petition Requirements

If your relative is already in the United States within a legal status, then you have the option of filing for adjustment of status to permanent resident while you are filing for the I-130 Petition.
more Use Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status

more Citizens petitioning for a foreign spouse and children please refer to the K3/K4 article on how to bring to the United States while the petition is being processed.

Step 2: Wait for Petition Approval


1. I-787 C Receipt Notice

Once USCIS receives the completed petition, it will mail you a receipt called I-797C, Notice of Action. Using the receipt number in it, you can track the process of the case online.

more Check the Status of your petition: Online Case Tracking

2. Additional Information

If USCIS needs any additional information, it will mail you a letter called RFE (Request for Further Evidence) asking for it. Follow the instructions in the letter and provide the appropriate information. You petition will not be ready to process unless all the information is received by USCIS.

3. Application Status/ How Long Does this Take?

It may take many months for it to get processed. Immediate family members (spouse, child and dependent mother and father) have priority status for the petition and may take months to a year. For other relatives, it may take many months to 10 years for the petition to process.

more You can check the status of your petition on the USCIS website: Application Status

Step 3: Acquire an Immigrant Visa Number from Dept. of State

Once the petition is approved you relative can now make an appointment with the nearest US consulate in their home country for an immigrant visa interview and application. An immigrant visa can be valid for six months from date of issuance.
There's a slightly different process for visa acquirement for immediate relatives (husband, wife, parent or unmarried minor child of a United States citizen) versus non-immediate relatives.

For Immediate Family Members (husband, wife, mother, father, unmarried minor child)

  • They do not have to wait for a visa number because immediate relatives are not subject to the immigrant visa limit. Once the petition is approved for immediate relatives a visa number will be issued to them right away.
  • Make an immigrant visa interview appointment with the nearest US Consulate serving your home country.
  • There are a few requirements before the interview, like getting a medical exam, and getting certain vaccinations. Please refer to the US consulate serving in your area for the requirements.
  • If you're already in the United States legally: You can now apply for an adjustment of status to permanent resident.
    more Use Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status

For Non-Immediate Relatives

There are a limited number of immigrant visas issued out to alien relatives each year. The Department of State must determine if an immigrant visa number is immediately available to the foreign national applying for permanent residence (even if you are already in the United States). When an immigrant visa number becomes immediately available to you, it means that you can apply to have one of the immigrant visa numbers assigned to you. You can check the status of a visa number in the Department of State's Visa Bulletin.

The visas are processed in the order in which the petitions are properly filed and accepted by the USCIS. To be considered properly filed, a petition must be fully completed and signed, and the fee must be paid and with appropriate supplement documents.

How long will this take?

In some cases, several years could pass between the time USCIS approves your immigrant visa petition and the State Department gives you an immigrant visa number. In addition, the State of Department limits the number of visas issued for different countries. So, expect longer delays if you country has a long list of people waiting for immigrant visas.

Check for Visa Number Status

You can get a monthly report on the dates when immigrant visas are available by calling the U.S. Department of State at (202) 663-1225 or you can visit the State Departments website at www.travel.state.gov

Visa Number Issuance Preference

The non-immediate relatives must wait for a visa to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age or older.
  • Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, and the unmarried sons and daughters (regardless of age) of lawful permanent residents and their children.
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children.
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children.

How Do I Apply for an Immigrant Visa Number?

You do not directly apply for an immigrant visa number. USCIS will tell the person who filed the visa petition (the petitioner) if the visa petition is approved. USCIS will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center, where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available. The Center will notify the beneficiary (the person the visa is applied for) when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available.
You do not need to contact the National Visa Center, unless you change your address or there is a change in your personal situation that may affect your eligibility for an immigrant visa.
You may contact the National Visa Center by writing to:
The National Visa Center;
32 Rochester Avenue;
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801-2909.

more To check the status of a visa number you can review the Department of States Visa bulletin.

Step 4: Apply for Immigrant Visa in Home Country

If applicant is applying out of the United States

If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available to you, you must then go to the U.S. consulate servicing the area in which you reside to complete your processing.

  • Get your visa number from Department of State
  • Make an immigrant visa interview appointment at the nearest US Consulate in your home country
  • Fulfill the requirements for immigrant visa such as medical, fingerprinting, & etc. Find out more about the requirements for the visa.
  • Get your visa stamped and buy your ticket to the United States.
  • Wait for your green card??
    Note: You don't need a work permit once you have a green card.
  • Apply for social security.

If Applicant is Already in the United States Legally

If you are already in the United States, you may apply to change your status to that of a lawful permanent resident after a visa number becomes available for you at your nearest USCIS office. Use the Form I-485 to register as a permanent resident and to adjust your PR status and to receive your green card.

more Download Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status
more Click here to find the USCIS field office(s) serving your area.

Note: Information concerning the new K (advance admission for the spouse and children of a U.S. citizen) and new V (advance admission for the spouse and the minor children of a lawful permanent resident) nonimmigrant categories is available but not yet incorporated here. For updates on the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act, please click here.

Step 5: Get Social Security Number

Your relative can apply for a social security number card once they're in the United States. There are many advantages of having a social security number card the sooner the better.
A permanent resident of the United States needs a Social Security number to:

  • Work in the United States
  • Conduct business with a bank or financial institution
  • Pay taxes or to be claimed on a tax return
  • And for other purposes not listed.

Refer to the Social Security Website for further instructions