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04. Green Cards and Citizenship


If you have a relative who is a U.S. Citizen or who has a "Green Card" you may be eligible to obtain permanent status in the United States.

In order for a relative to sponsor you to immigrate to the United States, they must meet the following criteria:

  • They must be a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the U.S. and be able to provide documentation providing that status.

  • They must prove that they can support you at 125% above the mandated poverty line, by filling out an Affidavit of Support

Your eligibility to be sponsored by your relative in the United States depends on whether your relative is a U.S. Citizen or a lawful permanent resident (has their Green Card).

A U.S. citizen may sponsor his or her close family members for a Green Card.  This includes their:

  • Husband or wife

  • Unmarried children under 21 years of age

  • Unmarried son or daughter over 21

  • Married son or daughter of any age

  • Brother or sister, if the sponsor is at least 21 years old, or

  • Parent, if the sponsor is at least 21 years old.

A Green Card holder (not a U.S. Citizen) may also sponsor their relative for a Green Card if the relative is their:

  • Husband or wife, or

  • Unmarried son or daughter of any age.

In any case, the sponsor must be able to provide proof of the relationship.

Preference Categories

If you wish to immigrate as a relative of a U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident, you must obtain an immigrant visa number based on the preference category in which you fall. People who want to become immigrants are classified into categories based on a preference system. The immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, which includes parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21, do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once the visa petition filed for them is approved by USCIS. An immigrant visa number will become immediately available.

The relatives in the remaining categories must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age or older.

  • Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under twenty-one), and the unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.

  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. Citizens.

  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. Citizens.


Once USCIS receives your visa petition (Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative), it will be approved or denied. USCIS notifies the person who filed the visa petition of the petition was approved. USCIS will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center, where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available.

The Center will notify the foreign national when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available. You do not need to contact the National Visa Center, unless you change your address or there is a change in your personal situation, or that of your sponsor, that may affect eligibility for an immigrant visa, such as reaching age 21, marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse.  The U.S. Department of State's Visa Bulletin will tell you how long you will have to wait to apply for your Green Card depending on what preference category you fall into.  Remember, immediate relatives have no wait, and can apply for their Green Card immediately.


If you’re a permanent resident in the United States, the process to apply for citizenship is fairly straight forward. After confirming your eligibility, there’s a form to file, fee to pay and a citizenship test with the interview. It may sound challenging. But as an immigrant, you’ve already overcome so much more.

The process of applying for citizenship is known as naturalization. It’s the most common way that foreign nationals become U.S. citizens. An estimated 8.8 million permanent residents in the United States are eligible to naturalize right now. It’s easy to remain a permanent resident, but there are significant advantages to becoming a citizen. In a more contentious immigration environment, it helps insulate you from problems down the road. There are also more job opportunities, scholarships for students, and independence from more immigration fees.


Advantages to U.S. Citizenship

  • Cost Savings

    There’s a government filing fee to apply for citizenship. But once you become a citizen, there’s no need to renew your green card. The average 30-year old will spend at least $5,300 in green card renewal fees over a lifetime.

  • Easier Travel

    With an American passport, traveling is generally easier. You won’t have to wait in the long lines for green card holders. Entry to several foreign countries doesn’t require a visa.

  • Reduced Risk of Deportation

    Permanent residents may be put into removal (deportation) proceedings for certain crimes. U.S. citizens can’t be deported. Of course, you can’t lie in order to gain your U.S. citizenship. This would invalidate any protections.

  • Help Family Members Immigrate

    The spouse, unmarried children and parents of U.S. citizens are immediate relatives. There’s no wait an immigrant visa. Spouses and children of permanent residents may have to wait for years to obtain a green card. U.S. citizens can petition parents and siblings while permanent residents cannot.

  • Extended Stays Abroad

    Many permanent residents put their green cards at risk by staying outside the United States too long. They risk abandonment of permanent residence. U.S. citizens may stay outside the United States indefinitely.

  • Tax Benefits

    U.S. citizens and green card holders can be treated differently by tax law. U.S. citizens may be subject to fewer restrictions on estate taxes and may be eligible for more tax exemptions than permanent residents. For more information, contact the financial planner with an immigrant specialty.

If you have permanent resident children under the age of 18 that live with you, they will automatically become U.S. citizens when a parent naturalizes. There is no additional fee. What’s more, many financial aid grants for college are available only to U.S. citizens.

Eligibility for Naturalization

The vast majority of permanent residents have been a green card holder for five years before they can apply for citizenship. There are provisions in the law for permanent residents who have been married to a U.S. citizen for three years as well as U.S. service members. However, most applicants meet the following requirements before they apply for citizenship:

  • At least 18 years old

  • Been a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least 5 years

  • Lived within the same U.S. state for at least 3 months before filing the application

  • Have continuous residence in the U.S. as a permanent resident for 5 years before filing the application

  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the 5 years before filing the application

  • Are able to pass the English test as well as U.S. history and government test

  • Are persons of good moral character

 20 Years of Accumulated Practice

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