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What Are the Different Family Green Card Categories?

To receive a green card, an alien (a non-citizen) must first obtain a sponsor who will petition on their behalf for permanent resident status. Generally, immigrants are most often sponsored by employers or family members. Family based green cards can be petitioned for by the following types of relatives:

  • Immediate Relatives of a U.S. Citizen
  • Family Member of U.S. Citizen
  • Family Member of a Permanent Resident
  • “Special Categories” of Family

What is an “Immediate Relative” of a U.S. Citizen?

The most common sponsor for family based green cards are family members in the “Immediate Relatives of a U.S. Citizen” category. Persons eligible for this category include:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens;
  • Unmarried children who are under 21 years old (with at least one citizen parent); and
  • Parents of a U.S. citizen who is under 21.

The immediate relative category is especially popular because it allows immigrants to bypass several requirements, such as “priority dates” and other limitations. They may also be able to file for an adjustment of status simultaneously along with the petition.  This can save several months in the overall green card processing time.  Requirements and eligibility factors for the other family categories may vary widely. 

What Does the “Special Categories” of Family Involve?

The “Special Categories” for family-based green card petitions was created to accommodate green card applicants who fall into certain categories. They may have special needs or may be involved in a special situation that would qualify them for a green card application. These persons must meet various qualifications and must also submit their application within a certain time frame. The Special Categories for family green cards are:

  • Battered Spouse, Child, or Parent: Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), battered spouses, children, or parents can file a petition for themselves, without the abuser being notified. This allows them to seek independence and safety from their abuser.  The VAWA provisions apply equally to men and women.
  • K Nonimmigrant: This category is usually used for immigration based on fiancé status.
  • Person Born to a Foreign Diplomat in the U.S.: The parent’s diplomatic title must be listed in the “Blue List” (the State Department Diplomatic List).
  • Widows and Widowers of U.S. Citizens:  These can apply for a green card if they were married to a U.S. citizen, at the time of the citizen’s death. The marriage must have been legal and entered into in good faith (i.e. not to obtain immigration benefits).

What Forms are Required? 

The primary document required for sponsoring an immigrant for a family based green card is Form I-130, also known as the Petition for Alien Relative form. The “priority date” in the immigrant visa category must be current, and the form must be filed by the citizen relative by the priority date. When submitting Form I-130, the applicant should be prepared to have the necessary signatures and pay a processing fee. In addition, to apply for residency an immigrant must also complete Form I-485, also known as the Application to Register Permanent or Adjust Status.

It is important to keep in mind that green card marriage laws can change these processes, so be aware of regulations regarding your green card if you are planning to get married prior to filing for a family based green card.

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

Applying for a green card can be a complex and time-consuming process, as well as easy to mess up. If you or a loved one needs assistance with a family category green card, it’s to your benefit to hire an immigration lawyer for help. A qualified immigration attorney in your area can help you complete the necessary filings and advocate for you in any potential court proceedings.

Photo of page author John Kirby

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-25-2018 11:01 PM PDT

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