How To Apply for a Green Card for Your Parent – A Step-by-Step Guide
If you are a U.S. citizen who is 21 years of age or older, you can napply for a green card for your parents. This green card is an immigrant visa that makes parents of U.S. citizens lawful permanent residents in the United States. There is no limit on the number of parent green cards issued each year. The application process generally takes about 12 months and requires $420 in filing fees. This article explains the process of applying for a parent green card in detail.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Written August 26, 2020
Step 1: Make Sure That Your Parent Is Eligible and Isn't Inadmissible.
In order for your parent to get a U.S. green card, they must be eligible and admissible to the U.S.
The eligibility requirements for parent green cards are generally pretty straightforward. For a U.S. citizen's parent to file for permanent residence in the U.S., they have to be a "legal parent" of that citizen.
Legal parents include:
Father to a child born out of wedlock who was legitimated before their 18th birthday, or
A father to a child born out of wedlock who was not legitimated before their 18th birthday.
Even if a parent is eligible for a green card, they may not be admissible to the U.S. The recent enforcement of U.S. immigration laws like the public charge rule may make it harder for certain parents of U.S. Citizens to get a green card, for example.
The public charge rule assesses whether an immigrant is likely to become a burden on the U.S. government by asking if they've received public benefits in the past or if they're likely to receive them in the future.
If your parent has received public benefits while in the U.S., their admissibility for the green card may be affected. If they are likely to become a public charge, your parent may be inadmissible to the U.S.
There are many other admissibility requirements for parents of U.S. Citizens in addition to the public charge rule. You can find a list of inadmissibility criteria from USCIS..
Step 2: Complete an Immigration Petition for Your Parent (the "Beneficiary")
Once you have confirmed that your parent is eligible and admissible, you are now ready to complete an immigration petition on their behalf. Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is the form you need to fill out to petition for a green card for your parents. Once completed, you will submit Form I-130 to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with the petition filing fee of $420. You must submit a separate Form I-130 and filing fee of $420 for each parent you seek a green card for.
You can find Form I-130 on the USCIS website. USCIS generally approves Form I-130 within a minimum of three months. Filing Form I-130 does not give your parent(s) status. They still need to complete some additional steps.
Step 3: Collect Proof That You Have an "Eligible Relationship" With Your Parent
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will generally approve your I-130 petition once you prove that your parent is actually your parent. As shown in the table below, the required evidence to submit differs slightly depending on the parent you request permanent residence.
|I am petitioning for my...||I must include...|
|Mother||Form I-130, a copy of my birth certificate with my name and my mother's name, a copy of my Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. passport if I was not born in the U.S.|
|Father||Form I-130 , a copy of my birth certificate with my name and the names of both parents, and a copy of my Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. passport if I was not born in the U.S.|
|Father (and I was born out of wedlock and not legitimated by my father before my 18th birthday)||Form I-130, a copy of my birth certificate with my name and my father's name, a copy of my Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. passport if I was not born in the U.S., and evidence that an emotional or financial bond existed between my father and me before I was married or reached the age of 21 (whichever came first)|
|Father (and I was born out of wedlock and legitimated by my father before my 18th birthday)||Form I-130, a copy of my birth certificate with my name and my father's name, a copy of my Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. passport if I was not born in the U.S., and evidence that I was legitimated before my 18th birthday through the marriage of my natural parents, the laws of my state or country (of birth or residence), or the laws of my father's state or country (of birth or residence)|
|Step-parent||Form I-130, a copy of my birth certificate with the names of my birth parents, a copy of my Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. passport if I was not born in the U.S., a copy of the civil marriage certificate of my birth parent to my step-parent showing that the marriage occurred before my 18th birthday, and a copy of any divorce decrees, death certificates, or annulment decrees to show that any previous marriage entered into by my natural or step-parent ended legally|
|Adoptive parent||Form I-130, a copy of my birth certificate, a copy of my Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. passport if I was not born in the U.S., a certified copy of the adoption certificate showing that the adoption took place before my 16th birthday, and a statement showing the dates and places I have lived with my parent|
For more information about the required supporting documents, check out this guide from USCIS.
Step 4: Complete a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support for Your Parent
Once you have collected all the required documents to prove that you have an eligible relationship with your parent, you (the sponsor) will need to file Form 1-864, Affidavit of Support on behalf of your parent. Form I-864 is used to show that you are prepared to support the green card petitioner (your parent) financially so that they will not have to rely on the U.S. government for financial support once they become a green card holder.
You can file Form I-864 either from within the U.S. by submitting to USCIS or from outside of the U.S. by submitting to the Department of State (DOS). In both instances, there is no filing fee required to file Form I-864. For more information about preparing form I-864, check out this guide from USCIS.
Step 5: Help Your Parent Prepare Their Green Card Application Paperwork
Now that you have prepared the Form I-864 on behalf of your parent, it is time to help them prepare their green card application paperwork. There are two different paths to apply for permanent residence for your parent. The path to take, and the supporting documents required, will depend on whether or not your parent is currently in the U.S. Either way, we can help you prepare your parent green card application for free with our simple web app.
Adjustment of Status – Your Parent Is Currently in the U.S.
If your parent is physically present in the U.S., they can apply for an adjustment of status. To apply for an adjustment of status, your parent would have to file Form I-485, Adjustment of Status either at the same time (concurrently) or after (non-concurrently) they file Form I-130.
When Form I-485 and Form I-130 are filed concurrently, the processing time for the parent green card is much shorter than other filing methods, as long as the accompanying Form I-130 is ultimately approved. There is an initial filing fee of $1,140 and an additional biometrics fee of $85 for filing Form I-485 whether you file them concurrently or not. Your parent will also need to provide two passport photos, their government-issued identification, and their birth certificate.
Consular Processing – Your Parent Is Living Outside of the U.S.
If your parent is living outside of the U.S. when they apply for a green card, they would submit their permanent residence application using the consular processing pathway — through a U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate.
Under consular processing, your parent would have to wait until USCIS approved their Form I-130. Once approved, their immigrant petition will be forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will send your parent confirmation when they receive the approved petition from USCIS. The NVC will then contact your parent once a visa number becomes available.
Then, your parent will need to follow these steps to complete their green card application:
File Form DS-261
Once they have a visa number, your parent will need to file Form DS-261 on the U.S. State Department’s website. It takes 2-3 weeks for the State Department to process DS-261.
Pay the Application Processing and Financial Support Form Fees
As soon as your parent’s DS-261 has been processed, they will need to pay $445 in fees online: the State Department’s application processing fee ($325) and the financial support form fee ($120).
File Form DS-260
After your parent has filed Form DS-261 and paid their fees, they will need to file Form DS-260. This is the actual green card application for the consular filing process. Like the DS-261, it is an online application on the State Department’s website.
Step 6: Complete Optional Paperwork for Your Parent's Green Card Application
If your parent is applying for a green card from inside of the U.S., there are additional benefits that they can apply for to help them while they wait for USCIS to approve their green card. Your parent can apply for authorization to work legally in the United States. They can also apply for authorization to re-enter the U.S. without a visa while they wait for their green card. As with the previous steps, there are forms and required documentation to submit for these options as well.
Form I-765, Work Authorization Application for Employment Authorization (EAD)
If your parent wants to work in the U.S. legally, they must first seek permission from USCIS by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization while they wait for their green card to be approved. There is a filing fee of $410 for this work permit application. An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will be issued to them once USCIS approves their work permit request. The EAD is what they will submit to employers as proof that they are permitted to work.
To learn more about the process of getting a work permit for your parent, check out our article on applying for a work permit.
Form I-131, Application for Travel Document
If your parent submitted an Adjustment of Status green card application and will spend some time outside of the U.S. while they wait for it to be approved, they should consider filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Form I-131 is an application for Advance Parole. Advance parole is permission from the U.S. government for your parent to leave and re-enter the United States without applying for a visa. At the airport or border, Customs and Border Protection(CBP) will decide whether or not to allow them into the U.S. Having Advance Parole will make it much more likely that your parent will be able to re-enter the U.S. without any problems.
Step 7: Your Parent Completes a Medical Exam and Gets Form I-693
USCIS requires your parent to get a medical examination, including any needed vaccinations, from a U.S.-based medical doctor. Your parent must schedule an appointment with one of USCIS's designated doctors.
For parents outside of the U.S. applying for their green card through consular processing, they must visit a Department of State panel physician of their choice. They can find a list of designated doctors by contacting the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they are applying from.
Designated doctors set the fees for the medical examination. When seeing a designated doctor, your parent must print and bring a copy of Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccine Record. The most recent version of the form is on the USCIS website. This form is used to document the results of their medical examination. They must fill Part 1 of the form but not sign until the doctor asks them to.
After the medical examination, the doctor will give your parent a sealed envelope containing their medical records to submit to USCIS. Do not open or tamper with this envelope! USCIS and the Department of State will not accept any tampered or unsealed envelope. Your parent needs to bring this envelope with them, unopened, to their green card or visa interview.
If your parent is applying from inside the U.S, they should send a copy of their Form I-693 to USCIS at the same time as the rest of the required forms. They can also bring Form I-693 and the exam packet with them to their green card interview if necessary, but it's better to send everything in to USCIS before the interview and then bring the original to the interview. If your parent is applying from outside of the U.S., they should follow the instructions that they receive from the NVC and the consulate processing their application to know what to do with their Form I-693.
Step 8: Submit the Paperwork for Your Parent's Green Card Application
It is now time to assemble the forms, supporting documents, and filing fees and mail your parent's paperwork to the U.S. government! We recommend including a cover letter at the front of the petition packet, which details the forms, fees, and supporting documents you are submitting to USCIS or the NVC.
Adjustment of Status: Submit Supporting Documents to USCIS
Parents who are filing for permanent residence using Adjustment of Status should mail their immigration packet to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It should include Forms I-130, I-485, and the following supporting documents.
You must provide the following supporting documents:
Proof of relationship with your parent (copy of birth certificate, marriage certificate or adoption decree)
Proof that you have maintained lawful status while in the U.S.
Your parent must provide:
2 passport-size photos
Copy of government-issued ID that has photograph
Copy of birth certificate
Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
The mailing address to use for USCIS differs slightly depending on which postal or courier service is being used. You can find the correct mailing address for the postal service used in our online filing instructions.
There may also be additional case-specific documents required for your parent’s green card application. You can review the full list of required supporting documents for Form I-485 on the USCIS website.
Consular Processing: Submit Supporting Documents to the NVC
After your parent files their DS-260 online, the NVC will send them a notice via mail or email confirming that they have received the DS-260, usually on the same day. The next step will be to submit the required supporting documents to the NVC. the required documents vary from consulate to consulate, but the list below shows the most commonly needed items.
You must provide the following supporting document:
Copy of birth certificate
Copy of valid passport photo page
Proof of domicile (proof of address, U.S. state-issued I.D, U.S. bank account or investment record, proof of voting in a local, State or Federal election)
Your parent must provide the following supporting documents:
Proof of nationality (copy of valid passport photo page and copy of birth certificate)
Adoption documents, if adoptive parent
Certified copy of marriage certificate and copy of marriage termination documents (divorce or death) if any former marriages
Copy of military record, if applicable
Copy of police clearance letters from:
The city and/or country where they were arrested, if they have ever been arrested
Home country if they lived there for more than 6 months at anytime in their life
Current country of residence (if different from country of nationality) if they have lived there for more than 6 months
Any place outside of their home country that they lived in for 12 months or more since they were 16
Court and prison records if ever convicted of crime
Different consulates have different requirements for providing these documents. You will either upload, email, or mail the supporting documents to the NVC. The NVC will then combine all of your parent’s forms and supporting documents and send them to the consulate processing your parent’s case.
It’s critical to submit all documents in the way the NVC asks. Some U.S. consulates require physical copies of everything, while others allow you to email or upload digital copies. Failing to provide these documents in the way that the NVC requests them tells you may cause the consulate to reject your parent’s green card application. We recommend including a cover letter at the front of the petition packet, which details the forms, fees, and supporting documents you are submitting to the NVC.
You can review the full list of required supporting documents for DS-260 on travel.state.gov.
What Happens After You Submit Your Parent's Green Card Application?
When you submit your parent's green card application, they will receive update notices about their application at the mailing address they provided to USCIS. For both permanent resident applications filed as an adjustment of status or under consular processing, your parent will receive a Form I-797C confirming USCIS has received their application. Sometimes USCIS will ask for additional information to process the application. If they do this, they will send a Request for Evidence notice to the mailing address on your parents' application.
Two to three weeks after filing, your parent can expect to receive a biometrics appointment notice with a date, time, and location to report to. At this appointment, they will have their photo and fingerprints taken. When USCIS has finished processing your parent's application, they will send notice of a date, place, and time for the green card interview. The interview notice includes a list of required documents to bring along.
If the interview is in the U.S., you must accompany your parent to this interview and make sure to have all the required documents with you. The interview is the last step of the green card process. The examiner may approve your parent's green card application at the interview, or let you know that they need more time to make their decision. They will contact your parent at the mailing address provided once they have made their decision
Parent Green Card FAQs
Can a Green Card Holder Apply for a Green Card for Their Parents?
No, a green card holder cannot apply for a green card for their parents. Only U.S. citizens who are 21 years and older can apply for permanent residence for their parents. The only time when a green card holder can apply for a green card for an immediate relative or family member is in the case that they are applying for a green card for their spouse or for their unmarried children who are minors (under the age of 21).
To learn more about who can sponsor their parents, check out USCIS's article about applying for parent green cards.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Green Card for My Parents?
Family-based green card applications like the parent green card application generally have a much shorter processing time than other green card applications. Typically, the entire process of applying for a green card for your parents can take anywhere from 7-15 months. The USCIS service center that the petition is filed with can impact the length of the processing time, depending on the amount of backlog the service center has to work through.
You can check the processing times for each USCIS service center or learn more about the green card application timelines in our detailed filing guides.
Can My Parent Live in the United States While Their Green Card Application Is Pending?
If your parent applied for their green card through Adjustment of Status, they can live in the U.S. while their green card application is pending. If your parent needs to leave the U.S. temporarily while their green card application is pending, it is a good idea to get Advance Parole before leaving the U.S., so that it is as easy as possible for them to return. You can find instructions on how to apply for Advance Parole in Step 6 above. However, if they forget or are unable to apply for Advance Parole, they may still be able to return under a V Non-Immigrant Visa from a consular office abroad.
Can My Parent Work While Their Green Card Application Is Pending?
Your parent can work in the U.S. while their green card application is pending if they filed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with their green card application and have received their work permit.
If your parent did not File Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and they don't have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or work permit, they work in the U.S. while their green card application is pending.
Does My Parent Need To Stay in the U.S. After They Get Their Green Card?
Yes. Once your parent has received their green card, they would need to stay in the U.S. to maintain permanent residence. Spending six months or more outside of the U.S. risks giving the U.S. government reason to believe that your parent's country of permanent residence is not the U.S. If this happens, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can revoke your parent’s green card when they try to re-enter the United States. I
f your parent spends a year or more outside of the U.S., the government automatically assumes that they have abandoned their permanent resident status. This is called an Abandonment of Residence.
How Can I Check the Status of My [arent's Green Card Application?
There are multiple ways to check the status of your parent's green card application. The easiest way to check the status is online, using the USCIS case status tracker or the State Department's case status tracker, depending on how the green card application was filed.
If your parent filed for a green card from within the U.S., you can check their case status by entering the receipt number from their Form I-797C receipt notice on the USCIS case status tracker. Your parent should have received this notice a few weeks after they (or you) filed Form I-130. If your parent filed for a green card from outside the U.S., you can check their case status from the State Department's case status tracker using their NVC case number.
What Should I Do if USCIS Denies My Parent's Green Card Application?
If USCIS denies your parent's green card application, they will usually explain why in the denial notice they send to your parent. The reasons for denial vary. For example, USCIS may be unable to establish that you are legally related to your parent. There may also be mistakes on the green card application. Or, USCIS may not believe that you can financially support your parent.
If USCIS denies your application, you should speak with an immigration attorney. If you can't afford to hire an attorney, you may qualify for legal aid.
Parent green card applications can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your parent green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!