Foreign nationals can become eligible to apply for a green card if they are a family member of a U.S. permanent resident or green card holder.
Below is information about family-based green card eligibility and the four family-based green card preference categories.
Family-based green card eligibility
U.S. citizens and green card holders can both apply to sponsor family members who are foreign nationals. However, the eligibility varies depending on the sponsor’s status.
Specifically, U.S. citizens can sponsor:
- Their unmarried children under 21
- Their spouse
- Their parents
- Their married children
- Their siblings
Meanwhile, U.S. green card holders can only sponsor:
- Their spouse
- Their children under 21
- Their unmarried children over 21
Family-based green card preference categories
The only family members immediately eligible to apply for green cards are spouses and children of U.S. citizens under the age of 21.
Permanent residency for all other family members is considered “limited” and distributed based on preference categories and country of “chargeability” (usually nation of birth).
The family-based preference categories are:
- F1: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of U.S. citizens
- F2A: Spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents
- F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of lawful permanent residents
- F3: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
- F4: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age and older)
Availability of family-based visas are determined by the Visa Bulletin, which is published monthly on the Department of State (DOS) website and allows foreign nationals to check their place in the green card line.
The Visa Bulletin establishes priority dates eligible for adjudication. A green card or immigrant visa is available to an individual when their priority date is earlier than the cut-off date shown for their preference category and country of chargeability in the “Final Action Dates” Chart in the Visa Bulletin.
K-1 fiancé(e) visa
U.S. citizens can sponsor their fiancé(e) via a K-1 visa. This visa allows a fiancé(e) to come to the United States as a nonimmigrant. The K-1 visa holder can then apply for lawful permanent residency as long as they marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days of entering the country.
To be eligible for a K-1 visa:
- The fiancé(e) sponsor must be a U.S. citizen
- The fiancé(e) sponsor and foreign national must intend to marry within 90 days of entry into the United States
- The fiancé(e) sponsor and foreign national both must be “legally free to marry”
- The fiancé(e) sponsor and foreign national must have “met each other in person at least once within the 2-year period” before they file their petition, with limited exceptions