You worked hard, came to the United States, and made a life for yourself and your family. Your parents were reluctant to leave their home… but they are getting older, and there is no longer a choice.
They need to come here to live with you.
Now that you have made the decision, you face the hurdle of navigating a complex immigration system.
Immigrating to the United States has always been complicated. Especially with the current political climate, you want to be sure that this process gets done right. No rejections, no delays, no problems.
In this guide, I am going to teach you how to get your parents green cards and take care of them with the same care they gave you.
You have made the first big step - deciding that you want to petition for your parents to come to the United States. Now, you need to make certain that they are eligible to obtain green cards.
In this first chapter, I will run you through a very straightforward process after which you will know for certain whether or not your parents are eligible to come to the United States as permanent residents.
There are two basic factors that will determining their eligibility.
First, you must be a United States citizen in order to petition for them. You can not just have a green card, you must be a full fledged citizen.
Second, you parents must be admissible to the United States. This is actually a fairly complex concept in US immigration law, but you can answer it with some basic information about their backgrounds.
You will need to know (1) your parents US immigration history, and (2) their criminal history. You will be looking for anything that would be a red flag for immigration and that would disqualify them from obtaining permanent resident status.
For US immigration history, you should gather any documentation you have related to their prior visa applications and travel to the US. Travel to other countries is not important here, we are focusing on their US visa applications and visits.
If your parents have never applied for a visa or traveled to the US, then you do not need to look into this step any further. They have passed!
If your parents have come to the US or applied for a visa, you need to review their immigration history to make sure they do not fit into one of these categories:
(1) If they have ever overstayed a visa, this could cause a problem for their eligibility. Specifically, if your parents have overstayed a visa by more than 3 months, it will create a bar to their ability to get a green card.
(2) If they have been denied a visa because of fraud or misrepresentation, this will also create a bar. Being denied a visa is not necessarily a problem, so you need to look into the reason for the denial.
If they have not overstayed or been denied a prior visa for fraud or misrepresentation, then you can continue on to criminal history.
You might assume that your parents have a squeaky clean criminal history. Do not make this assumption! As awkward as this might be, you should ask them directly if they have any prior criminal charges, convictions, or arrests.
Most small criminal convictions will not actually cause them to be eligible for permanent resident status, but they must disclose those convictions in the application process, so you need to know before you start.
It does not matter where a criminal charge of conviction took place. They all apply regardless of the country.
If your parents have no criminal charges, convictions, or arrests, you can move on. If they do, you will need to get certified dispositions for each criminal charge. These will typically show the charge and sentence, and will be signed by a judge.
Immigration law lists the types of criminal convictions that will make someone ineligible to get permanent residence status in INA 212(h). Because criminal law varies between states and countries, you will need to look at the certified dispositions for criminal convictions they have to see if that crime matches up with something on this list.
Now that you have gone through this chapter it should be fairly clear whether your parents are eligible for permanent resident status. If you are a citizen and they have a clean immigration and criminal history, you are free to go ahead and start the process.
If you have realized that they have a spotted immigration or criminal history, they might still be eligible. This is the point where you really do need to bring the documents you gathered about their immigration and criminal history to an immigration lawyer for a consultation to see if there still might be a way that they can get green cards.
Congratulations! If you have made it to Chapter 2, then you know your parents are eligible and with the some work and perseverance, they will soon be living with you in the United States as permanent residents.
Now you need to decide which of two processes you will go through to get them green cards. This is an incredibly important step and you should make this decision carefully as it will greatly affect the rest of the process.
There are two ways they can obtain permanent resident status: (1) adjustment of status, and (2) consular processing.
Adjustment of status means that they will be changing their immigration status entirely from within the United States to become permanent residents.
Consular processing means that they will process their case through a consular post abroad and obtain their green cards after traveling to the United States on an immigrant visa.
Adjustment of status is the preferred method for most immigrants. It is less complicated. You will submit all of the forms and documents to immigration once at the start of the process, making it easier to organize your filing. It also allows your parents to stay in the United States while their petition is processing.
Consular processing is actually a three step process. It starts with USCIS, goes to the National Visa Center which acts a sort of ‘middle-man,’ and then is finished at a US embassy abroad.
It is typically more time consuming than adjustment of status and there are more potential pitfalls along the way.
So, you are probably wondering, why would anyone choose consular processing?
Sometimes, you will not have a choice. You see, your parents must already be in the United States when you decide to petition for their green cards in order to do an adjustment of status.
For example, if they were in the US on a tourist visa, and while they were here you decided to petition for them, you could go forward with adjustment of status. This would be perfectly appropriate.
However, you are not allowed to apply for a temporary visa or travel to the US on a temporary visa for the purpose of coming into the country and applying for a green card.
Doing so can create some very serious problems down the road. Immigration could decide that your parents committed immigration fraud when they applied for their temporary visa or when they came through US customs on an existing visa, making them unable to get permanent resident status, ever.
It is important to note that the Trump Administration has made some changes to the foreign affairs manual indicating that immigration authorities will take a closer look at applications with a discerning eye for any misrepresentation.
This makes it even more important to think through how an immigration officer will perceive your parents intent when they applied for a visa or came through customs if you go forward with adjustment of status.
In many instances, therefore, consular processing is the safer route. If your parents are living in your home country and have never traveled or applied for a visa to come to the United States, it may look suspicious to immigration if they apply for tourist visas, come to the United States, and immediately apply for adjustment of status.
Additionally, one major advantage of consular processing is that it will allow your parents to immigrate to the United States on their own terms. Once you go through the process, they will get immigrant visas that are typically valid for six months.
They will then be able to travel to the United States at any time within that six month timeframe, after which they will immediately have permanent resident status and be able to live here normally.
On the other hand, If they apply for adjustment of status, there will be a period during which they are living in the United States in ‘limbo’ while the case is processing.
The bottom line here is that you should only apply for adjustment of status if your parents are in the United States on a temporary visa when you decide to file their petition. If they are abroad and you have already decided to go forward with this process, you should choose consular processing.
If you have decided to get a green card for your parents through adjustment of status, you can pat yourself on the back for using the less complicated and cumbersome of the two options you have available.
That being said, you still need to a take a detail oriented and methodical approach if you want to make the adjustment of status go smoothly.
This chapter will guide you through the process of adjustment, giving you the resources you need to make your petition a success.
At the outset, it is helpful to understand the procedural framework and timeline for adjustment of status. There are five stages, or ‘events’, that you can expect throughout the process.First, you will submit all of your forms, supporting documents, and filing fees to immigration at the very outset of your petition. This is technically called ‘concurrent filing.’ Second, within two to four weeks after sending off your adjustment petition, you will receive an ‘I-797C Notice of Receipt’ acknowledging acceptance of your filing and telling you that it is in process.
Third, within two to six weeks of filing, your parents will receive a biometrics appointment notice for collection of their fingerprints and bio data at an immigration service center.
Fourth, within three to four months of mailing your petition, your parents will receive an Employment Authorization Document (“EAD”) that will allow them to work in the United States and travel internationally.
Finally, within six months to a year your parents case will be reviewed by an immigration officer and you will be notified of an approval of your petition or the scheduling of an interview.
As you can see, the most important factor for achieving success with adjustment of status is your initial filing. That is where you should focus your time and attention.
There are three components to knocking your initial filing out of the park.
First, submitting all of the necessary forms filled out correctly and completely.
Second, supplementing those forms with the right supporting documents.
Third, submitting the forms and documents with a detailed cover letter and tabbing your submission so that it is easy for an immigration officer to read.
So let’s get down to business and go through the forms. You are submitting a ‘concurrent filing,’ meaning that you will mail all of the necessary forms for your case along with the filing fee in one package.
I will explain the purpose of each form, give a you link where you can download the most current version, and provide explanations for some common questions that arise with each.
This form notifies immigration that you are filing for a green card for your parents. It is completed and signed by you, the petitioner. You can find the most current version of the form here.
The I-130 is a fairly dense form. You will provide an extensive amount of biographical information about both yourself and your parents such as birth dates, passport information, and naturalization certificate numbers. The most difficult information to gather for this form is residence, education, and employment history.
One common issue that arises while completing the I-130 is how to find information about your parents most recent arrival in the United States. This information is available in their most recent I-94. If they came more recently, you can look up their most recent I-94 online at the Customs and Border Protection website.
If their most recent arrival in the United States was more than five years ago, you will need to find the physical I-94 card that was stapled into their passports when they came through customs at the United States port of entry.
This form officially requests the adjustment of your parents to permanent resident status. It is focused more on your parents biographical and immigration history. You can find the most current version of the form here.
To a large extent, the questions in form I-485 are redundant with form I-130 so you should not have to gather more information in order to complete it. At the end of the form, your parents will respond to a number of security questions directed toward possible causes of inadmissibility such as criminal convictions and prior membership in a communist party.
It is important that you actually read through these questions with your parents and make sure they answer them completely and honestly. This is a great way to double check that they do not have any problems that would preclude them from obtaining a green card.
With this form your parents will request permission to work in the United States while their green card is in process. You can access the most current version of the form here.
Even if they do not plan to work, they should complete and file this form as the work permit will serve as proof that they can travel on advance parole before obtaining their green cards. The filing fee for this form is waived with a concurrent filing, so there is no additional cost.
A common problem people face when filling out form I-765 is the question about your parents class of admission or eligibility code.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services publishes a full list of employment eligibility codes. However, for our purposes, the eligibility code for your parents will be C09 for a pending adjustment of status applicant.
This form will allow your parents to travel on advance parole while their petition to adjust status is processing. You can find a link to the most current version of the form here.
I do not typically advise that your parents travel outside of the United States while waiting to adjust status, as it can be stressful to deal with customs on their return.
However, The adjustment of status can take anywhere from six months to over a year, so I always suggest that you apply for advance parole in case they need to travel to visit a relative or for some other emergency purpose.
You should ask for multiples entries, and for the intended countries of travel, select their home country along with anywhere else that they may need to visit. Request a period of fourteen days as their duration of stay, and ask that their intended date of departure be ‘as needed.’
Of course, if they have specific travel plans, you should include the specific duration of that stay as well as the departure and return dates.
Your parents need a financial sponsor in order to adjust their status. As the ‘petitioner,’ you will complete and submit this form. If your income or assets do not meet the necessary standard, you will need to recruit a ‘joint sponsor’ to submit an additional affidavit of support. You can find the most current I-864 form here.
In order to fill out the affidavit of support, you will need your most recent three years of tax returns, and in some cases your most recent W-2s on hand.
You can find the current requirements for financial sponsorship here. If your income alone meets the necessary financial threshold, then you do not need to include any information on form I-864 about your assets.
If your income does not meet the threshold, you can prove financial sponsorship through proof of assets, such as equity in a home, savings accounts, and personal property.
Because financial sponsorship is a common place where applicants get tripped up in their green card process, we have devoted an entire chapter in this guide to the topic. If you have more questions, you can skip ahead to read about it in more detail.
Along with the forms, your initial filing will include documents that immigration will need to review in order to approve the adjustment of status for your parents.
As you might expect, you will be submitting documents to prove your status as a United States citizen and to establish your parent-child relationship. In most cases, a birth certificate is sufficient to prove that relationship.
Depending on your home country, documentation establishing your parent-child relationship might be easy to find, or it might not exist at all.
If you find yourself in the latter category, there is an entire chapter of this guide devoted to gathering hard to find documents and what you should submit if a required document does not exist.
For now, you should make a list of what you need and start checking off what you have. You will need to submit the following documents along with the adjustment of status petition:
- Your birth certificate
- Your parents birth certificates
- Your parents marriage certificate
- Your parents passports
- Divorce decrees if your parents have ever been divorced
- Your naturalization certificate
- Your passport
- Your parents most recent I-94
- 4 passport style photos of each your parents
- 2 passport style photos of you
- Three years of tax returns, W2s, and 6 months of paystubs for each financial sponsor
- A completed medical exam for each parent
For the initial filing, you will submit copies of these documents, but you should keep the originals in one place. Ultimately your parents may need to present the originals to an immigration officer at an interview, but for now, copies are all you need to submit.
Your goal here is to present your filing to an immigration officer in a format that is clear and concise.
You want to make the immigration officer’s job easy.
To do this, you should submit your filing with a cover letter that lists your forms and supporting documents by number. Then, tab your filing on the bottom of the page corresponding with the numbered list on your cover letter.
You should do this for two reasons. First, so that the officer can easily see what you have submitted. Second, so that the officer can easily find the various forms and supporting documents you filed.
Would you want to wade your way through over 100 pages of forms and documents without any table of contents and tabs?
No, of course not. And neither does the immigration officer who can approve or deny the adjustment of status.
By doing a thorough job of preparing your filing, you can make it much easier for the immigration officer to approve your parents petition for permanent resident status.
Consular processing is, without a doubt, more complicated than adjustment of status. There are more government agencies involved and more information and documents to submit.
But, with the right approach, this process can be straightforward and easy.
The important point here is to be aware of the documents and information you need and collect it at the outset of the case. That way you will not get slowed down or surprised when you are hit with the hard part of consular processing four or five months after you file.
The first part of this process is almost deceivingly simple. To start the petition, you will file form ‘I-130 Petition for Alien Relative’ and supporting documents with US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The I-130 form is fairly dense. Primarily it requires that you fill in biographical information about yourself and your parents. At this stage you are proving to immigration that your parents are eligible for a green card based on their family relationship to you.
To that end, you will also submit documents to prove your status as a US citizen and your parent-child relationship. At this stage you only need to submit copies of documents, do not submit originals.
You will file your completed and signed form I-130 along with the correct supporting documents by mailing them to a USCIS. You should include a cover letter listing the forms and documents included in your filing and then tabulate your package so it is easy for the immigration officer to read through.
You should submit the following documents along with your completed form I-130:
- Your birth certificate
- Your parents birth certificates
- Your parents marriage certificate
- Your parents passports
- Divorce decrees if your parents have ever been divorced
- Your naturalization certificate
- Your passport
Once USCIS receives your filing, you will get a receipt on form I-797C letting you know that it is in process. This receipt has some very important information - your filing date and receipt number.
You will need the receipt number to check their case status online. You can find that status at the USCIS website here.
In order to get an estimated processing time for your I-130, you need both the filing date and the receipt number.
The first three letters of the receipt number indicate which service center is processing your I-130. You then check which cases that service center is currently handling and compare that to your filing date to get an estimate of how long it will take USCIS to approve your I-130 petition.
You can find service center processing times here.
Once your I-130 petition is approved, USCIS will forward your case file to the National Visa Center, or “NVC.” It typically takes a month for your case to move between the two agencies, and when it is received you will be notified by email.
The NVC is the middle man between USCIS, which handles immigration from within the United States, and the US Embassy abroad where your parents will have an interview and get their visas.
It is exists so that your parents file is complete and ready for an interview before it gets in front of a consular officer abroad. At this stage you will submit the vast majority of information and documents necessary for your parents to obtain a visa and get a green card.
It is important to note that you might find information online referencing a “Packet IV.” Ignore it. This is an artifact of an old system that no longer has any meaning. If you just follow the steps outlined in this guide, you will have submitted everything you need for this stage of the case.
There are three steps to handling your case at the NVC.
(1) Paying your fees.
When the NVC receives your case, you will receive an email with information on how to login to your account.
The first order of business is logging in and paying your fee invoices. There will be an invoice for each parent as well as one fee invoice for the affidavit of support.
You will need to pay the invoice by entering a checking accounting number and routing number. The fees will be drawn directly from your bank account within two to three days.
Once the fees have been processed, the NVC will open up your account so that you can move on to the next stage of the petition.
(2) Completing and submitting form DS-260.
Form DS-260 is completed and submitted online through your account with the NVC. This is the primary form that the consular officer in charge of approving your parents case will review before their interview.
The DS-260 is like the I-130 on steroids. The biographical information required is extensive. You will need to list all of your parents employment, educational, and residential history for their entire lives.
This is usually the most challenging part of the form. Especially if your parents have moved repeatedly, it may be impossible to get exact locations and dates of residence. You should do your best to get approximate dates and locations if exact information is not available.
The best way to prepare for the DS-260 is to find the answers to these questions well before you get access to the form while you are waiting for the I-130 to be approved. That way you do not waste valuable time tracking down this information.
(3) Assembling a package of supporting documents that you will mail to the NVC.
Once you complete the DS-260, you will send a package of documents along with a cover letter to the NVC, finalizing this stage of the process.
The NVC will review this package, and if everything is complete it will schedule your parents for an interview with the US Embassy abroad.
If something is missing, you will receive an email notifying you what you must provide before the case can move forward. This will delay your case significantly, so you should be careful to include all the required documentation.
You should submit the following documents to the NVC:
- your birth certificate
- your passport
- your naturalization certificate
- your parents birth certificates
- your parents passports
- police clearance certificates
- financial sponsorship documents
You should already have everything on this list other than the police clearance certificate. Every country has a different process for obtaining the clearance certificate, and they are only valid for one year.
You should have your parents get the police clearance certificates after the I-130 has been approved and before the case makes it to the NVC to be sure it does not expire before the interview.
To find out how to get the police clearance certificate, find your country in the Department of State ‘reciprocity schedule’ here.
As you have now noticed, all of your filing with immigration should include a cover letter listing what you are submitting and you should tabulate your documents. This bears repeating. Make it easy for the consular officer to approve the case. Include a cover letter and tabulate your submission!
Finally! Your parents have been scheduled for an interview. You are almost done, but there are still some very important steps before they walk through the embassy doors.
Before the interview, your parents will need to register their interview, specify how they want to get the immigrant visa, and have a biometrics and medical appointment.
Each country handles this differently. You should follow the instructions for completing this step that are specific for the country where your parents will appear for their interview. You can find that information here.
Your parents will need to bring originals of all identity documents to their interview, such as birth, marriage and divorce certificates. They will also need to bring a valid passport that they will leave with the embassy so that their visas can be issued.
You should send them any original documents that are in your possession along with a copy of everything you have filed with immigration. It will be helpful for your parents to see exactly what the immigration officer has in hand during their interview.
The most important part of the interview is having all of the necessary original documents. The consular officer will typically ask softball questions, and cases are usually delayed or denied because the applicant fails to provide a necessary document.
That being said, your should review a list of sample security questions. This list is not exhaustive, and usually an officer will not ask this many questions, but they are better off having some expectations and preparing for the predictable questions at the interview.
Typically your parents will receive a decision on their case and their passports with the immigrant visa within a few days to three weeks.
Along with the passport, they will receive a sealed packet. The visa will typically be valid for a period of six months from the date of issue.
It is important to note that the visa is not their green card. They will get their green cards after traveling to the United States on their immigrant visa and giving the customs officer at their port of entry the sealed packet they received.
It is vitally important that they do not open that packet before going through customs. The packet must be sealed when they come through the airport or land border.
After their arrival in the United States, they will pay a nominal fee for immigration to create the physical green cards, after which you will receive them by standard mail.
I have found that financial sponsorship is one of the most common parts of the green card process that causes problems for would be immigrants.
The directions provided by USCIS and the Department of State are not entirely clear about what you need to provide and in what format.
Combined with the fact that every person has a much different financial situation, and the documents necessary to prove financial sponsorship can get murky.
After finishing this chapter, it should be crystal clear exactly what you need to provide in order to meet the financial sponsorship standard.
There are two ways to prove that you meet the necessary threshold to sponsor your parents in their green card petition. Income and assets.
If you meet the income requirements, then you do not need to worry about assets. You are done. Do not fill out any of the information about your assets in form I-864.
If your income does not meet the necessary threshold, then you have a choice.
You can try to prove that you meet the threshold through assets, or you can find a joint sponsor. The joint sponsor does not need to be related to your parents in any way, but they must have legal immigration status in the United States.
If you do not meet the income requirement, I would typically advise you find a joint sponsor. It is difficult to prove that you meet the financial threshold through assets unless you have a significant amount of liquid assets, such as in a savings or brokerage account.
With the preliminaries out of the way, let's get into the details of what you need to provide to immigration in order to prove your income.
Your income must meet a certain threshold depending on your household size. You should include in your household your spouse and any dependents who reside with you. If you have a renter in your basement, do not count that person toward household size.
You can find the chart for the income threshold for your household size here.
There are three types of documents that taken together are sufficient to prove your income.
First, copies of your most recent three years of tax returns or tax transcripts. While immigration prefers a tax transcript, they will also accept tax returns.
You only need to provide your 1040, typically the first two pages of your tax return. You do not need to send immigration your entire tax return, itemized deductions and all.
Second, you should submit all of your W2s for the last three years. If you worked for multiple employers, be sure to submit your W2s from each.
Third, your last six months of paystubs. This is prove to immigration that you have not lost your employment or had a reduction in salary since your last W2 and tax return.
Now, despite the fact that you need to provide three years of taxes and W2s, it is your current income that must meet the financial threshold for sponsorship.
Practically speaking, your ‘current income’ is your income from the most recent year’s tax return. If your income from that most recent year meets the financial threshold but your income from the two prior years does not, that is perfectly acceptable.
The same applies to a joint sponsor as far as documents required to prove financial sponsorship. In addition, you will need a copy of your joint sponsor’s passport or birth certificate to prove their status in the United States.
If you do not meet the income requirement and are not using a joint sponsor, the alternative is to prove your sponsorship through assets.
The amount you will need in assets in order to meet the threshold for sponsorship is five times the difference between your income and the income threshold for your household size.
There a three common types of assets you can use to meet the threshold: home equity, savings and brokerage accounts, and personal property.
To prove your home equity, you will need to provide immigration a recent statement for the mortgage indicating the total amount you owe, a copy of the deed to the home, and a recent assessment of the value of the home.
Proving savings or brokerage account value is straightforward. Simply submit a copy of your most recent bank or brokerage account statement.
Documents showing the value of your personal property are slightly more suspect in the eyes of immigration and should be avoided if you can meet the threshold with your home equity and liquid assets.
If you do need to use personal property, you can provide proof of valuation of a car, jewelry or other such personal property. This varies depending on the item.
You will need to prove what you owe on that property as well as an accurate estimate of its valuation, such as as through Kelly Blue Book or an insurance appraisal for jewelry.
When submitting proof of assets, you need to do an especially good job of explaining the documents in your table of contents and presenting them in a clear way. These can be confusing, for laypersons as well as for immigration officers.
Depending on your parents country of nationality, it can be difficult if not impossible to find official documentation that is necessary to get your parents a green card.
The most common issue is that birth certificates were not issued at the time of your birth or your parents births.
This will vary significantly country by country. In some cases, birth certificates were not issued at the time of birth but can be issued by the government retroactively.
In other cases, there will be no way to obtain a birth certificate and you will need to prove your parent-child relationship through alternative means.
If a birth certificate was not issued at the time of birth, your first step should be to contact your country of origin’s embassy in the United States. Ask if it is possible to obtain a birth certificate now.
If the embassy staff informs you that it is impossible to obtain a birth certificate, even at this later date, you will need to start collecting documents to prove the birth by other means.
You should collect and submit the following documents if no birth certificate is available:
- Two affidavits of birth. These are sworn statements from family members or other individuals with personal knowledge of the birth
- Religious records of birth
- Medical records
- School records
If no alternative documents are available, or if immigration decides that what you provide is insufficient, immigration may ask you to take a blood or DNA test to prove your parent-child relationship.
If you are asked to take a DNA test it must be from a laboratory accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (“AABB”). The sample will be collected at the AABB accredited laboratory if it is being collected in the United States. If it is being collected abroad, it will typically be taken at the US embassy in your parents country of residence.
You can find a list of accredited laboratory facilities here.
DNA testing is expensive and cumbersome. It will often be easier and less time consuming to provide sworn statements and circumstantial evidence. You should do your best find credible documentation and submit it to immigration along with your initial filing.
If that initial filing is insufficient, you will get a request for additional evidence or a DNA test request which will both significantly slow down the petition.
So that is our definitive guide for getting your parents a green card.
Now I want to turn it over to you. What did you think about this guide? Is there a topic you would want covered that you did not find here?
Let us know by leaving a comment below.