Family Based Green Cards

Family Based Green Cards

Permanent residency (Green Cards) through a family member is one way of obtaining a green card. Due to the huge amount of applicants and statutory annual limits, waiting times for a green card based on a family petition can last many years.


There are Two categories of Family-Based Green Cards:

  1. Immediate Relatives:
    • Spouses of US citizens.
    • Unmarried children under the age of 21 of US citizens.
    • Parents of US citizens, US citizen must be at least 21 years old.
  2. Family Preference Categories:
    • F-1 - Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens.
    • F-2A - Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of permanent residents.
    • F-2B - Unmarried children (21 and older) of permanent residents.
    • F-3 - Married children of U.S. citizens.
    • F-4 - Siblings of U.S. citizens.

Immediate Relatives: there is no limit on the number of immediate relative green cards that can be issued each year, and there is no waiting period for processing applications. Immediate relatives do not need to wait in line for a visa to become available, which means that their application can be processed as soon as all eligibility requirements are met.

Family preference categories have annual numerical limits on the number of green cards that can be issued, and there is often a waiting period before a visa becomes available. The waiting period varies depending on the category and the country of origin of the applicant. Please check the Visa Bulletin for current wait times.



I. US citizen can petition for:

  1. Husband or wife (green card immediately available).
  2. Father or mother, if US citizen is at least 21 years old (green card immediately available).
  3. Unmarried child under 21 years of age (green card immediately available).
  4. Unmarried son or daughter 21 or older.
  5. Married son or daughter.
  6. Brother or sister, provided that the US citizen petitioner is at least 21 years old.

II. Permanent resident can petition: 

  1. Husband or wife;
  2. Unmarried child under 21 years of age;
  3. Unmarried child 21 or older.

Note: Permanent resident cannot petition for married children


Additional information:

Why are there waiting times for my green card?

Immigration law divides family based petitions into two categories: immediate relatives and preference categories. Categories names are counterintuitive because immediate relatives can apply for their green cards without waiting whereas preference categories must wait in lines. Immigration law sets annual limit of green cards which can be issued during any fiscal year in a given preference category. The more applicants apply, the longer the wait time. On the other hand, immediate relatives of a US citizen are not subject to such limits and can apply for their green cards right away.

Visa Bulletin

Every month the US Department of State publishes a Visa Bulletin which sets cutoff dates for all preference categories. Please check the visa bulletin page to approximate your anticipated wait time.  USCIS issues green cards based on the Visa Bulletin and the Priority Dates.

Priority Date

Your place in the waiting line for your green card is called a Priority Date. Priority Date is the date when you had your green card case started. USCIS can only issue green cards to those applicants whose Priority Date is before the cutoff date listed in the Visa Bulletin.

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