Carlos Batara – Immigration Lawyer header image

The Family-Based Permanent Resident Process

Two Steps To A Green Card

In order for you to become a lawful permanent resident through a family member, you will need to complete two sets of primary documents for the government’s review and attend an interview with an immigration officer.

First, you must file a family-based immigrant petition, known as the I-130 petition.

Second, you must file an application for permanent residency. At this stage, the road divides into two directions. The chart below shows you how this works.


As the above graph shows, when your I-130 family visa petition is approved, you will be given a priority date.

Priority Dates And Immediate Relatives

This priority date will determine when you can file documents for the second step. For some immigrants, the wait will take a long time.

For some immigrants, the paperwork for both the family visa petition and the green card application can be submitted together at the beginning.

These immigrants are deemed the “immediate relatives” of certain United States citizens. Only the following immigrants qualify:

  • Husbands and wives of a U.S. citizen
  • Unmarried children under 21 of a U.S. citizen
  • Parents of a U.S. citizen who is 21 years or older

If the petition is approved, the immigrant is given a priority date.

At that point, immigrants must wait until it’s their turn to go to the second step. How long is the wait?

It varies from immigrant-to-immigrant.

For immediate relatives, the priority date is instant.

Green Card Interviews

Some applicants will be able to attend their interviews in the United States. This is known as adjustment of status.

Other immigrants will need to go to their green card interviews in the home country. This is called consular processing. Green card applicants, under this approach, file a different set of documents from those using the adjustment process.

The overall process from family petition to green card interview, under these two approaches is relatively similar, although the timing and documents are dissimilar.

After the permanent residency documentation is reviewed by a government agent, a green card interview is scheduled at either a local immigration office or a consulate office abroad.

However, for some applicants, there’s a catch. If you entered the U.S. without authorization and have lived here for more than 180 days, the return home requires you to also file a family unity hardship waiver.

Once this waiver is granted, it enables you to reenter the United States.

A potential problem exists. The waiver is not automatically granted.

At the present time, if you are living in the U.S. at the time you process your consulate paperwork, you can, at present, submit your I-601 waiver request before you leave the country. You will be provided a provisional decision.

Even though it is remote, a later denial at your interview remains a possibility.

Will Immigration Reform Change The Green Card Process?

Most likely, yes.

The entire family-based immigration system is being changed.

Currently, the family relationship is the only affirmative requirement. Other issues, such as convictions and illegal entries might disqualify an immigrant from becoming a lawful permanent resident.

Under some recent proposals, the green card process will be transformed into a points-based system.

Points will be awarded based on criteria like education level, employment history and training, English fluency, age, country of birth, and the U.S. need for certain types of workers.

In my view, the shift to a merits system will have a major impact not only on how many immigrants earn permanent residency per year, but also which immigrants survive the government screening review.

For information about our immigration attorney services for permanent residence seekers, see our Permanent Residence And Green Card Lawyer page.

By Carlos Batara