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The Green Card Application for a Child of U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident


1. Children as Close Family Members of U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident

As a U.S. citizen, you can submit an immigration application if you have a close family relation, and you can sponsor the following family members:

  • Husband or wife;

  • Widow or widower of a U.S. citizen;

  • Brother or sister (including half-brothers and half-sisters);

  • Son or daughter (including illegitimate children);

  • Stepson or stepdaughter;

  • Stepparent of a U.S. citizen child;

  • Adopted son or daughter;

  • Adopted parent;

  • Father or mother;

  • Battered or abused spouse or child.

As a U.S. legal permanent resident, you can submit an immigration application for:

  • Spouse; 

  • A child (unmarried and under 21 years of age); 

  • An unmarried son or daughter (over 21 years of age). 

The "immediate relatives" of a U.S. citizen, including parents, spouses, widows, and children who are unmarried and under 21 years of age, can immigrate to the United States without being subject to any visa numerical restrictions. They can apply for the permanent resident status without any waiting time. 

The rest of the beneficiaries are divided into several groups called "preferences." Each preference is given a numerical quota per year to limit the number of immigrants admitted into the United States. Generally, the higher the preference, the quicker the alien will be eligible to receive a Green Card. The relatives in preference categories must wait for a visa to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First preference: Unmarried Children over 21 year of age of U.S. Citizens (23,400 per year, plus unused visas from the Fourth Preference);

  • Second Preference: Spouses and unmarried children (regardless of age) of U.S. permanent residents (114,000 per year, plus unused visas from the First Preference);

  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, including their spouses and their minor children. (23,400 per year, plus unused visas from the First and Second Preferences);

  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, including their spouses and their minor children. (65,000 per year, plus unused visas from the First, Second, and Third Preferences).

2. Children as Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizen

Unmarried children under 21 year old of U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for permanent resident status as immediate relatives. Immediate relatives may immigrate to the United States on a family based petition. This is the most attractive category, since there is no limitation to the number of immigrants who may qualify under this category and, in most cases, visa numbers are immediately available for these individuals to apply for lawful permanent residence. Immediate relatives include spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens. 

For immediate relative to qualify as a "child" of a U.S. citizen, the person must be the son or daughter of a U.S. citizen, and the immigration law defines a “child” as an unmarried person under the age of 21 (a minor) who is: 

  • A child born to parents who are married to each other (born in wedlock);

  • A stepchild if the marriage creating the step relationship took place before the child reached the age of 18;

  • A child born out of wedlock (the parents were not married at the time the child was born). If the father is filing the petition, the proof of a real and established relationship with the father must be supplied;

  • An adopted child if the child was adopted before the age of 16, and has lived with the adoptive parents in their legal custody for at least two years;

  • An orphan under the age of 16 when an adoptive or prospective adoptive parent files a visa petition on his or her behalf, who has been adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen or is coming to the U.S. for adoption by a U.S. citizen, or

  • A child adopted who is under the age of 18 and the natural sibling of an orphan or adopted child under the age of 16, if adopted with or after the sibling. The child must also otherwise fit the definition of orphan or adopted child.

3. The Distinction for "First Preference of Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens" and a Child of an "Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen"

The only distinction in eligibility between a child in "First Preference of unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens" and a child of an "immediate relative of a U.S. citizen" is that the child in the First Preference is over 21 years old.  That means to qualify as a "child" in this category (First Preference), the person must be the son or daughter of a U.S. citizen, who is unmarried and over the age of 21. 

An adopted child qualifies as long as the adoption was finalized before the child's 16th birthday, the adoptive parents have legal custody of the child for two years (before or after the adoption), and the child resides with the adoptive parents for two years (before or after the adoption). A stepchild qualifies as long as the marriage had occurred before the stepchild's 18th birthday.

Immediate family members of the married child may also apply for a Green Card. The annual visa allotment available for this Third Preference is 23,400, plus any visas not used by the fourth preference. Please see "Visa Bulletin" for the latest information on usage of the visa quota. 

4. The Eligibility to Sponsor a Child to Immigrate to the United States, the Derivative Beneficiaries and the Immediate Relatives

The immigration beneficiaries are strictly defined, and one has to meet the definition of its category at the time that the application of adjustment of status is approved. Those who do not meet the definitions cannot immigrate to the United States through family based immigration.

To be eligible to sponsor a child to immigrate to the United States, a parent must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States, and be able to provide documentation to prove your status; 

  • You must prove that you can support your relative at 125% above the mandated poverty line.

  • Your can legally prove that you share the child/parent relationships.

In U.S. immigration, the "children” includes only unmarried children under age 21. Include all children even if they will not be immigrating to the United States. If the spouse and children also intend to immigrate to the United States, it may or may not be necessary to file separate Form I-130 petitions. This can be confusing for many petitioners. You are not required to file separate petitions for the beneficiary’s spouse or unmarried children under 21, if the beneficiary is your:

• Married son or daughter and you are a U.S. citizen
• Brother or sister and you are a U.S. citizen
• Spouse and you are a lawful permanent resident
• Unmarried child (under 21) and you are a lawful permanent resident
• Unmarried son or daughter (21 or older) and you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident

The spouse and children in these cases qualify as “derivative beneficiaries.” A separate Form I-130 is not required. Once the Form I-130 is approved and current, the derivative beneficiaries may apply for an immigrant visa (green card) at the same time as the principal beneficiary.

This is not the case for the spouse and children of immediate relatives. For example, if you are a U.S. citizen petitioning a spouse, you must file separate I-130 petitions for your spouse’s unmarried children under 21 years of age. This is one of the most overlooked details in the I-130 instructions.

5. The Children's Green Card Eligibility in Marriage-Based Immigration Process

If you are applying for U.S. Green Card (lawful permanent residence) based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or a U.S. permanent resident, your foreign-born child may be eligible to obtain green card along with you. This is true whether or not the foreign-born child is the biological children of your petitioning spouse.

But the foreign-born child would not get Green Card automatically. The child will have to go through the same or a very similar immigration application process as you do. The child will have to prove that he or she is not inadmissible, and that the child will be financially supported along with you.

If your child are unmarried and under age 21, he or she will be placed in the same immigrant category of applicant as you. The result will be that the child can get a visa or green card at the same time as you do.

If your child is married or over age 21, they may or may not be able to get an immigrant visa, and any visa they might get will take years longer than yours to obtain. The eligibility will depend in part on whether your spouse is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

6. Marriage Based Green Card Eligibility - Children born to Unmarried Parents 

If the petitioning spouse is a U.S. citizen and the unmarried children under 21 are his or her biological children, or are legal stepchildren because you and your spouse married when they were under age 18, they qualify for green cards as the U.S. petitioner's immediate relatives.

Immediate relatives are given high priority under the immigration laws, with no annual limits to slow their receipt of a green card. But they each need separate visa petitions filed on their behalf, using USCIS Form I-130.

Some of the visa possibilities for children of the immigrant depend on a biological parent-child relationship between the new U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse and the children. Thus, immigration law recognizes certain nonbiological parent-child relationships, and includes them as “children.”  For children born to unmarried parents,

1) If the petitioner is the child’s mother, the case is handled just like any other child immigration application case.

2) But if the petitioner is the child’s father, he will have to prove that he was the biological father, and either had a real relationship with the child before the child turned 21, such as living together or financial support, or took legal steps to formally “legitimate” the child before his or her 18th birthday. At the time of legitimation, the child must have been in the legal custody of the father.

7. The Processing Time and Steps during the Family-Based Green Card Application

If you are planning on acting as a green card sponsor for a family member, various factors can stretch the process into months, depending on how long it takes you to gather documents and prepare the appropriate paperwork; who you plan to sponsor; whether there is a limit on immigrant visa numbers given out in that category; and how backlogged the various USCIS offices that you will deal with are at the time.

First, you will need to fill out USCIS Form I-130, and attach your U.S. citizenship or Green Card evidence, as well as proof of your relationship to your family member. USCIS' process for the petition can take several months. Usually later, you will need to prepare an Affidavit of Support on Form I-864, together with documents proving that you are able and willing to support the immigrant at an amount that is at least 125% of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines.

In addition, your family member will need to prepare various documents as his or her own application for a green card. The exact forms and process depend on whether your relative will be adjusting status in the U.S. or going through consular processing from another country. Your relative will also need to undergo a medical exam, and get the doctor's report to submit with the green card application. At every step of the way, you will be dealing with a government agency that is backlogged with other applicants. The typical processing steps you may encounter include:
  • waiting a receipt notice after submitting Form I-130;
  • if your relative will be coming from abroad and going to consular processing, awaiting transfer of the case to a U.S. consulate and correspondence from the National Visa Center;
  • if your relative is in the U.S. and will be adjusting status inside U.S, awaiting a receipt notice and then a fingerprinting appointment waiting for the FBI to process your relative's fingerprints;
  • waiting an interview with the U.S. consulate or USCIS office.



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The "Following-To-Join" Benefit for Permanent Resident's Child to Get Green Card
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers of Green Card Application for Children
Our Help Desk's Answers for Questions of Green Card Application for Children
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The Green Card and Immigration Application for Children
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