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Green Card for Children of U.S. Citizens & Permanent Residents

by Hamid R. Kashani, Attorney at Law
Nov 07, 2018 (last modified Jan 31, 2019)

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you can petition for the immigration of your children to the United States. How the children are treated under the immigration laws will depend on their marital status and age. Each category of children has its own visa classification and waiting period, which can be as long as several years.

Family
Preference
Class
Description Approximate
Wait Time
IR-2 / CR-2 Unmarried children, under 21, of U.S. citizens None
F1 Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their minor children about 7 years
F2A Unmarried children, under 21, of U.S. Permanent Residents about 2 years
F2B Unmarried sons and daughters, 21 or older, of U.S. Permanent Residents about 7 years
F3 Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children about 12 years

Unmarried children of U.S. citizens, who are under 21, are considered immediate relative.  There is no numerical limitation on the immigrant visas available to them. As a result, an immigrant visa would be immediately available to them. Immigrant visas for other classes of children, as shown above, are subject to numerical limitation with varying wait periods. The approximate Topic image for Green Card for Children of U.S. Citizens & Permanent Residents wait times, shown above, are for comparison purposes only. You may check the visa availability of a particular visa category for your country of origin.  See Priority Date & Visa Availability.

You may note that there is a wait time of over a decade for the married children of U.S. citizens.  Permanent residents cannot petition for the immigration of their married children.  They can do that after they naturalize and become a citizen.

If a parent is the beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition (such as a work-related immigrant visa petition), which would allow for inclusion of derivative beneficiaries (i.e., spouse and children), it would be best to include the children on that petition as derivative beneficiaries.  In that case, the children (unmarried and under 21) can accompany their parents to the United States. Otherwise, the parent must become a permanent resident and then apply for immigration of the children. There are two problems with that approach.  First, the children may age out by that time. Second, visas obtained through a separate petition would be subject to numerical limitation of family-based visas and will be subject to longer waiting periods.

Children as defined here would include stepchildren, adopted children (provided you had two years of legal and physical custody), and children born out of wedlock (regardless of whether you are the father or the mother).

Who qualifies as my child?

  • A child born in or out of wedlock. If you are the father and the child was born out of wedlock, then you must show either (a) a parent-child has been established under the local law, or you established a bona fide relationship with the child before the child reached 21 years of age and while the child was unmarried.
  • A stepchild where the marriage which created the relationship occurred before the child reached the age of 18.
  • An adopted child, (a) if you adopted the child before the child reached the age of 16, or if you adopted a sibling of the child before that child reached the age of 16 and the beneficiary child was under 18, and (b) if you had the legal and physical custody of the child for two (2) years before filing your petition.
  • A child born through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) (i.e., with the help of a surrogate mother), if the child's relationship to the "non-genetic gestational mother" (i.e., the child's legally-recognized mother) was established under the local laws at the time of the child's birth.

For immigration of orphan children adopted in the United States or abroad, see Orphan Process.

How can I file a petition to sponsor my children for immigration?

To apply for classification of your children (in all categories), you must file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) together with the supporting evidence, which can be rather complicated, depending on the circumstances and how your relationship with your children was created.  You must file a separate petition for each child.

Image of a family with children

To see the current USCIS fee for this petition, see USCIS Fee Schedule.

To see how long the USCIS would take to adjudicate your petition, see USCIS Processing Times.

What happens after the USCIS approves the classification petition for my children?

If your children are in the United States and qualify, they may apply for adjustment of status. Note that not every foreign-born individual in the United States would qualify for adjustment of status.  See Adjustment of Status Eligibility Requirements, though there are exceptions for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

If you are a U.S. citizen and your children, who are unmarried and under 21, are here, they should file an Application for adjustment of status together with your petition. Note that, as immediate relatives, your children (unmarried and under 21) will be forgiven for some immigration violations, which ordinarily would render an applicant ineligible to adjust status here.  See Adjustment of Status Eligibility Exceptions for Immediate Relatives.

If your children are outside of the United States, or do not qualify for adjustment of status, they must go through consular processing, to actually receive immigrant visas.

Note that, under Child Status Protection Act (CSPA), the ages of children of U.S. citizens are frozen at the time a classification petition is filed on their behalf.  The ages of children of permanent residents are frozen at the time their petitioning parents become U.S. citizens, assuming classification petitions are already pending on their behalf.  The protection available to other categories is different and may require complex computation. See USCIS Policy Memorandum on Age-Out Calculations.

When would my stepchildren receive a conditional permanent residence status?

In case of your stepchild, if you have not been married to the child's other parent for at least two (2) years at the time the child receives his or her permanent residence, then the child will receive a conditional permanent residence. Thereafter, the child has to request the removal of condition on his or her permanent residence in due course. The Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence (Form I-751) must be filed within the 90 days before the expiration of the conditional permanent residence card, or the child's permanent residence status will be terminated.

If your spouse and stepchild become conditional permanent residents within 90 days of each other, the child may be included on your spouse's Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence. Otherwise, you must file a separate petition for the child.  See Removing Condition on Residence Based on Marriage

Can my children stay here or come to the United States, while waiting for their green card?

Filing of a classification petition does not provide a basis for the beneficiary to either stay here or come to the United States, while waiting for the approval of the classification petition.

If you are a U.S. citizen and your children are unmarried and under 21, they should file an Adjustment of Status together with your classification petition.  In that case, they can stay here while the petition and the application are being adjudicated.  For all other categories, if your children are here, you may check the visa availability for them, see Priority Date & Visa Availability, and if a visa is immediately available to your children (unlikely), they should file an Adjustment of Status together with your classification petition. That would allow your children to stay here while the petition and the application are adjudicated.

Can I upgrade my children's petition when I become a U.S. citizen?

If you were a U.S. permanent resident, when you filed a petition to sponsor the immigration of your children, and later you became a citizen, you should send a request to the USCIS (if you petition is still pending) or the National Visa Center (if your petition is already approved), and request an upgrade. Your request should be in the form of a letter and must include sufficient details to identify the underlying petition. Make sure that you attach a copy of your naturalization certificate and a copy of the receipt or the approval notice for your petition on behalf of your children.

Can my children bring their own children as derivative beneficiaries?

Derivative beneficiaries are allowed for certain categories shown above. When allowed, you may include the spouses and children of your children as derivative beneficiaries on the petitions you file on behalf of your children.  Note that you must file separate petitions for each of your children.

Related Topics:

Traveling Outside of the United States during the Immigration Application Process

Working in the United States during the Immigration Application Process

Applying for Citizenship

Waiver for Battered/Abused Spouses, Children, & Parents

 

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