A permanent resident (a green card holder) is any person who is admitted to the United States to reside permanently. Most permanent residents become eligible for U.S. citizenship when they accrue the requisite residence period as long as all other eligibility criteria are satisfied. Please read more about eligibility for naturalization.
Permanent residents are granted permission to permanently live and work in the U.S. and to travel abroad within limitations. The two most common methods of obtaining permanent residence are through a permanent offer of employment in the U.S. or through a sponsoring family member.
Both U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents may sponsor family members to come to the U.S. on a permanent basis. Applicants sponsored by U.S. citizens are given priority.
In order for a relative to sponsor a family member to immigrate to the United States, they must: (1) Be a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the U.S. and be able to provide documentation proving that status, (2) Prove that they can support their relative at 125% above the mandated poverty line (done so by filling out an Affidavit of Support).
A lawful permanent resident can file a petition for the following relatives: (1) A husband or wife or (2) an unmarried son or daughter of any age.
A U.S. Citizen of any age (either by birth or by naturalization) can file a petition for the following relatives: (1) a husband or wife, (2) an unmarried child under 21 years of age, (3) an unmarried son or daughter over 21, or (4) a married son or daughter of any age.
A U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years or older can file a petition for the following relatives: (1) brother or sister or (2) a parent.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration to the U.S.
Steps in family-based immigration
There are two main stages in the family-based immigration process:
Step 1. Sponsorship.
A sponsoring U.S. citizen or a sponsoring permanent resident files paperwork in the U.S. to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, requesting sponsorship of the beneficiary-relative. Proof of the relationship must be included along with other required documentation government fees.
Step 2. Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing.
If the beneficiary-relative is already in the U.S., they can choose to file an Adjustment of Status application to adjust their current status to that of a permanent resident while they are inside the U.S. If the family member is outside of the U.S., they will need to proceed through Consular Processing at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Read more about Consular Processing here.
Status in the U.S. during the process
Approval of the sponsorship application in Step 1 alone will not provide the beneficiary-relative with status to stay in the U.S. However, if the beneficiary-relative files for an adjustment of status application, the pending application will provide the beneficiary-relative with lawful pending status to stay in the U.S. Because of the visa backlog there are gaps between the approval in step 2 and the earliest time at which the beneficiary-relative may file for adjustment of status, therefore, it is important to consider other strategies to keep the beneficiary-relative in lawful status in the U.S. while the beneficiary-relative is waiting for visa number availability to file for adjustment. Please request a consultation with an immigration attorney to discuss your specific situation.
The Visa Bulletin published each month by the U.S. Department of State provides information regarding the cut-off dates which govern visa availability in the numerically limited visa categories and other immigrant visa related information.
Visa bulletin http://travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_1360.html