Otherwise known as a permanent resident card, the green card is a document that allows you to reside and work legally within the United States. It is granted to a foreign individual after an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and usually requires sponsorship by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

You are eligible to apply for and receive a green card if you fit one of several categories, including the family relationship category. Generally speaking, the closer the familial connection, the stronger the likelihood you will be able to obtain your green card.

What is the Family Category for Green Cards?

You may be eligible for a green card based on your familial relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States. There are several subcategories under the family classification:

  • Immediate relative of a U.S. citizen;
  • Other family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents;
  • Fiance(e) of a U.S. citizen or their child;
  • Widower or widow of a U.S. citizen to whom you were married at the time your spouse died; and
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) victim (abused spouse or minor child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or abused parent of a U.S. citizen).

Note that in this category, the VAWA individual can self-petition directly for a green card. The other family category individuals require a sponsor at some point in the usually two-step process to apply for permanent residency.

Who is an “Immediate Relative?”

Under U.S. immigration law, immediate relatives are identified as the following persons:

  • Spouse of a U.S. citizen;
  • Unmarried children under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen; or
  • Parent of a U.S. citizen (who is 21 years of age or older).

If you are a widow/widower, then there is a separate process that can still allow you to file for a green card. If you are apply for a family based green card but are currently outside of the United States, then there is separate process you will need to follow in your home country.

Who are “Other Family Members”?

This category is also called the family preference category, which means family members are ranked in order of the priority that visas will be issued.

  • First priority goes to unmarried minor children of U.S. citizens;
  • Second priority category is further subdivided into two categories;
    • The first is for spouses and unmarried minor children of lawful permanent residents.
    • The second is for the adult unmarried children of lawful permanent residents.
  • Third priority goes to married children of U.S. citizens; and
  • Fourth priority goes to siblings of U.S. citizens (who are 21 years of age and older).

What Does It Mean To Be The Fiance(e) of a U.S. Citizen?

A U.S. citizen may sponsor their foreign national fiance(e) for a K-1 visa which would allow them travel to the United States and seek permanent residency status. Within 90 days after being admitted as a K-1 nonimmigrant, the fiancé(e) must enter into a bona fide marriage with the U.S. citizen who filed the petition on their behalf.

Only after getting married to the U.S. citizen within the 90 day period can the foreign national spouse apply for a lawful permanent residence (adjustment of status).

How Do I Apply for a Green Card Under a Family Category?

There are different forms you must complete to petition for a green card. Those forms depend on which subcategory under the family category applies to you. You will be required to submit the applicable fee with your application.

If you are already in the U.S. on a valid visa, you can apply here. Otherwise, you must visit the U.S. consulate or embassy in your country to complete the application.

If a sponsor is required in your particular case, make sure the sponsor is aware of the proper form and has all the information and documentation required to complete the application on your behalf. It is important that you complete each step accurately and thoroughly to prevent your application being delayed or denied.

The application for a green card generally involves a two-step process in the U.S. First, your sponsor files a form for petition on your behalf with the USCIS. The USCIS then will decide whether or not to approve the immigrant petition.

If the petition is approved and there is a visa available in your card, you will then file an application to register or adjust your status to permanent residence. Thereafter, a biometric appointment is scheduled and you will receive an in-person interview. A decision is then made on your application.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Family Green Card?

The green card application can be quite tricky and can be further complicated if there are any reasons that you may be inadmissible (criminal, security, health, or other grounds) for permanent status even if you fit a family category.

Further, if you are uncertain whether your current immigration status might negatively influence your current residency status, then you should consult with an immigration attorney for help.