Family-Based Green Card Process
Are you looking to apply for a family-based green card? This process is for both applicants who are applying from within the United States as well as those who are applying from abroad (consular processing). Family-based green cards are issued to those who have a close familial relationship with a U.S. citizen or legal resident in the United States. Distant relationships, such as being the aunt, uncle, or niece or nephew of a U.S. citizen creates no eligibility for family-based immigration.
Before we get started…
For a quick reference, there are four main categories of family based visas that are issued based on close family relationships. The list below shows the four family preference categories for sponsoring a relative:
1. First preference (F1) - unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of U.S. citizens
2. Second preference (F2A) - spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents
3. Second preference (F2B) - unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of lawful permanent residents
4. Third preference (F3) - married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
5. Fourth preference (F4) - brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age and older).
First Steps: Submit an I-130 Application
In any family-based immigration scenario, the principal applicant (the immigrant who is looking to gain legal status in the United States) needs to have an I-130 Petition filed on their behalf. This is both the case for U.S. citizens filing and for permanent residents. This is a key document that can be filed online and by mail with the USCIS.
The filing fee for the I-130 is $535.
The filing location by mail depends on the state where you reside. For a full list of U.S. state and their corresponding mail-in address, please see the following link: https://www.uscis.gov/i-130-addresses
The USCIS also has online filing for the I-130. One of the benefits of online submission of this form is that you can track the status of your case simply by logging on. Some applicants may prefer this method over signing up for the eNotification system that is used with mail-in applications.
The USCIS has also created a helpful user-friendly page dedicated to helping applicants understand the online log-in system. Link is available here: https://www.uscis.gov/file-online/benefits-of-a-uscis-online-account
Recommended Checklist for I-130 Petition
The following documents should be submitted along with your I-130 Petition as photocopies or uploaded as scans/pictures if filing online.
- Passport-style photo of the petitioner and beneficiary. Print your name on the back of each photo if filing by mail
- Proof of petitioners U.S. citizenship via Passport page scan/green card photo
- Marriage certificate (if applicable)
- English translations provided (if applicable)
- Divorce certificate (if applicable)
- Filing fee (cashiers check, money order if filing by mail)
In addition, for marriage green card applicants (which is a family-based application), a Supplemental I-130A will need to be completed. Make sure the beneficiary has completed all blocks and signed his or her form.
Next Steps: Wait for Decision on the Petition you Filed
After you file with the USCIS, you need to make sure they have received your application in full so it can be properly adjudicated by an officer. You should receive an eNotification if you filed by mail, within 2-3 weeks, or be able to check the status online if with your USCIS Account. Either way, the confirmation of your application is known as the I-797C (Notice of Action).
An approval for immediate family members can happen anywhere between 5-12 months after filing. At this point, if you are in the United States, you can begin to work on your I-485 application (as immediate family members are given priority). If you are in another family preference category, you need to check the Visa Bulletin, as you will have to wait until there is a priority date.
If you are outside the United States and a petition was approved on your behalf, the USCIS will notify the National Visa Center—NVC, and contact the appropriate beneficiary with their case number.
Again, you cannot file for an immigrant visa unless one is available.
Filing an I-485 Application or DS-260
The next step once your I-130 has been approved and there is a visa number available to you is to file an I-485 application (only for domestic applicants), or DS-260. It should be noted the NVC will not allow you to process any forms if there is not a visa number available to you. For those who are applying from abroad and are confused as to this process, here is a simple explanation:
If you have had your I-130 petition accepted and are now filing for an immigrant visa with the NVC, this means you are applying for a visa to enter the United States. You need this visa before you are issued a permanent resident card (green card). Most immigration blogs will simply forget to acknowledge this step, often confusing “green card” with “immigrant visa”.
As international applicants pursuing a green card, your process involves one final step at a U.S. port of entry, where you present your immigrant visa. The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer will verify your visa. At this point, you will be admitted to the U.S. and have your green card mailed to you within weeks if everything goes over well.
If you are already in the United States, you simply keep working with the USCIS via your I-485 application. The I-485 is a long, 20-page application and for those who need more information on how to fill out this form, please see our blog post with step-by-step instructions: https://www.visa2us.com/i-485/how-to-fill-out-form-i-485.
Medical Exams and Other Fees
Any immigrant seeking legal residence in the United States needs to pay associated visa/green card fees, as well as have their medical records/vaccinations up to date.
The I-485 application has a fee of $1140, plus an $85 Biometrics fee.
The State Department also has an immigrant visa fee of $325 (for international applicants). There is also an Affidavit of Support fee of $120.
Medical exams average $200 USD, but applicants have been known to pay more if they need certain vaccinations. The CDC has a useful price index in USD for those interested in the price of vaccines they need, or so they plan financially for such a visit: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/awardees/vaccine-management/price-list/index.html
Here is a USCIS checklist for supporting documents that I-485 applicants will need: https://www.uscis.gov/i-485Checklist