In order to petition USCIS for permanent residence on behalf of a parent, you must be a US citizen who is 21 or older. A green card holder can only petition for permanent residence on behalf of their unmarried son, unmarried daughter, spouse, or their spouse’s unmarried children. If you have a green card and you’d like to bring your parents to the United States, you’ll need to become a US citizen through naturalization before you can sponsor their application.
Lawful permanent residents can become a US citizen through the process of naturalization. In order to qualify for naturalized citizenship, you must meet three basic requirements:
- Be 18 years or older
- Maintain lawful permanent resident status and physical presence in the United States for at least 5 years (this time requirement can be shortened or eliminated in certain situations)
- Possess good moral character
Eligible green card holders can apply for US citizenship with Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. After submitting the petition, you’ll need to take an exam to demonstrate your proficiency with US civics and English (written and verbal), and you’ll need to complete a naturalization interview at the local USCIS field office. When the application is approved, you can take the Oath of Allegiance and exchange your green card for a naturalization certificate.
How to Petition for a Green Card on Behalf of a Family Member
As a naturalized US citizen, you now have the ability to petition for a green card on behalf of your parents. Even better, there aren’t any visa restrictions for immediate family members of US citizens, so the application process is significantly faster than it is for family members of a green card holder (who often need to wait 2 – 4 years for a visa number).
The first step to petition for a green card on behalf of a parent is to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. This petition allows USCIS to validate and formally recognize your relationship to your parents, which in turn qualifies them for a green card with immediate family status. USCIS is willing to do this upon consideration of sufficient evidence:
- Proof of your US citizenship status – may be in the form of naturalization certificate, US passport, or a statement from a US consular officer that verifies you are a US citizen with a valid passport.
- Proof of the family relationship – a birth certificate that lists your parents on the official document is best. If this is unavailable, or if one of your parents is not listed on the birth certificate, you’ll need to provide an explanation along with proof of an emotional and financial bond between you and your parent.
There is a $535 filing fee attached to Form I-130. Unfortunately, you’ll need to pay this for both parents if you are bringing both to the United States. You can pay the traditional method with a personal check, cashier’s check, or money order, or you can give USCIS permission to charge your credit card with Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.
Once you have properly filed Form I-130 and submitted the proper fees, USCIS will issue a receipt that you can use to track your case. Generally speaking, it takes USCIS 9 – 10 months to process Form I-130.
What Happens after USCIS Approves Your Petition for Alien Relative?
When USCIS approves Form I-130, one of two things will happen depending on whether your parents are inside the US or out of the country. If your parents are already in the United States with a valid visa, they can apply for a green card via an adjustment of status. If your parents are outside the United States and don’t have an immigrant visa, they’ll need to go through the consular processing route with the US State Department.
Green Card Through Adjustment of Status
Parents who are already in the United States can apply for a green card with Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This form requires significantly more information and documentation, and it carries a much larger filing fee of $1,140 per person. There is also a biometric services fee of $85 per person for applicants who are age 14 – 78.
After submitting Form I-485, your parents will need to complete a biometric services appointment (to record their fingerprints, photo, and signature), a green card medical exam, and a green card interview at the local USCIS field office. Processing times can vary significantly from case to case, but your parents should receive their green cards in the mail within 10 – 12 months.
Green Card Through Consular Processing
Individuals who are not in the United States are not eligible to apply for a green card through an adjustment of status. Instead, those who are outside the country will need to obtain their green card through the US State Department in coordination with the nearest US Embassy or consulate. This application method is referred to as consular processing.
If your parents are outside the United States awaiting a visa when Form I-130 is approved, USCIS will forward the approved petition to the State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will assign a visa number and forward the case to the US Embassy or consulate, at which point a consular officer will contact your parents to schedule a green card interview. They’ll also provide instructions on where to complete the green card medical exam. After completing the interview, your parents will have their fingerprints and photos taken before receiving their visa packet.
Remember—a visa packet doesn’t guarantee entry into the United States. Rather, it allows an individual to travel to a US Port of Entry in order to be inspected and admitted to the United States by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Your parents’ visas will not become “active” until they pass this inspection and have their passport stamped.
Once your parents have entered the United States, they should receive their green cards by mail within 30 days. If they haven’t received their green card 45 days after entering the country, they should contact the USCIS Contact Center for assistance.