Child Green Card

This page details some of the different situations in which foreign children can immigrate to the U.S. with the help of family members. In many cases a parent or a relative who is already a U.S. citizen, or lawful permanent resident, provides the sponsorship necessary to help a child obtain a visa, and ultimately a child green card. Child immigration turns on many factors. This page details them.

Depending on the type of family relationship, wait times for visas and a green card for child vary. Immediate family members who petition for a child green card typically experience shorter wait times. This page was designed to help U.S. residents who are interested in sponsoring a petition for a child green card learn more about the immigration process and decide if they should consult an immigration attorney.

The following topics are discussed:

  • Two Ways to Get a Child Green Card
  • Immediate Relatives
  • Preference System – People Who Are Not Immediate Relatives
  • Orphans
  • Petitioning For a child green card
  • What if I’m Not A US Citizen, Can I Still Petition For a child green card?
  • Visa Attorney

While certain legal concepts are discussed on this page, it is not intended as a substitute for speaking directly with an attorney. Each child immigration case is different, and filing mistakes can be costly, time consuming, and in some cases, lead to denial of application. To find out if an experienced immigration attorney can help you, contact our office for more information.

Two Ways to Get a Child Green Card

Family-based immigration is vast and complex. There are two different types of family member eligible to help obtain a green card for child:

  1. If the sponsoring family member is a U.S. citizen, and qualifies as an immediate relative, a child green card can be obtained fairly easily.
  1. If the sponsoring family member qualifies as a close relative, a green card for child can be obtained under the preference system. This way typically involves longer wait times during the application process.

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Immediate Relatives

The U.S. government wants to promote family unity, and has made sponsorship of child immigration relatively easy for immediate family.

Unlike the preference system, the U.S. Department of State does not put an annual cap on the number of child green card issued under the immediate family category.

The Immigration and Nationality Act defines immediate family as a parent, spouse or child of a U.S. citizen. The term ‘child’ is defined as an unmarried person (under 21 years of age).

The child green card recipient can be a child born in wedlock, a stepchild, or a child born out of wedlock (as long as the sponsoring adult is the child’s natural mother or natural father).

Adopted persons also can qualify as children, as long as they were adopted under the age of sixteen and have resided with the adoptive parent for at least two years.[1]

It is important to keep in mind that the sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act defining the terms “child” and “immediate relative” are nuanced and complex. This page does not offer an exhaustive description of the statute. If you have questions about whether a family member qualifies for child immigration, contact our office to see if we can help.

Preference System – People Who Are Not Immediate Relatives

If no immediate family members live stateside, child immigration is still possible under the preference system. However, the number of visas issued under this category is limited, and wait times are longer than under the immediate family category.

Currently, the U.S. Department of State issues about 226,00 family preference visas annually. But with backlogs for each preference category, the wait can take years.

Federal law defines non-immediate family members of U.S. citizens as unmarried sons or daughters (over 21 years of age), married children of any age, and brothers or sisters. Relatives of U.S. citizens who fall under one of these categories may qualify for a preference visa.  The following list provides a brief run down of the family-based preference visas:

First preference – Applies to adult unmarried sons or daughters of U.S. citizens who are older than 21 years of age.

Second Preference (2A) – Applies to unmarried children (under 21 years old), of lawful permanent residents (green card holders).

Second Preference (2B) – Applies to unmarried adult sons or daughters (over 21 years old) of lawful permanent residents (green card holders).

Third Preference  – Applies to married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.

Orphans – Green Card for Child

The immigration and nationality act refers to an orphan as a child under the age of 16 who has lost both parents due to death, disappearance, abandonment or desertion.[2] A child also qualifies as an orphan under the act if the sole surviving parent is incapable of providing care and has released the child in writing for emigration and adoption.

Orphans are distinguished from adopted children under the act through the residency requirement. Simply put, the two-year residency requirement that applies to adopted children does not apply to orphans. A child living in the U.S. is not classified as an orphan under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

In order to apply for a green card for child orphan, a sponsoring U.S. citizen must file a Petition to Classify Orphan as Immediate Relative (Form I-600). This form is filed through U.S. Immigration and Customs Services.

The petitioning U.S. citizen must establish that the child was adopted abroad, and that he or she personally observed the child during the adoption process. If the child was not adopted abroad, the sponsoring U.S. citizen must establish that the child will be adopted in the U.S.

In some cases, U.S. Immigration and Customs Services (USCIS) or the U.S. Department of State will conduct an overseas investigation to verify that the child is an orphan as defined by U.S. law, and that the petitioning U.S. citizen has obtained a valid adoption.

Because of the complexity of orphan cases, it is suggested that a parent interested in petitioning for an orphan abroad consult with a qualified immigration attorney.

Application Process

Immediate Relatives – In the case of immediate relatives filing on behalf of a foreign national child, a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) can be filed concurrently with an Application to Adjust Status (Form I-485). Both forms are filed through US Immigration and Custom Services (USCIS)

Because the U.S. government seeks to keep families together, there usually isn’t a wait time for an immigrant visa. Once the Form I-130 is approved, a green card will be issued.

If the child is outside of the country at the time of filing, the child can travel to the country once the form I-130 is approved, and lawful permanent residence will be granted at a U.S. port of entry.

Non-immediate Relatives – The non-immediate relative must file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) before filing for adjustment of status. This is done through US Immigration and Customs Services (USCIS).

Unlike the immediate relative category, there will usually be a waiting period before the applicant can file Form I-485 and receive a green card.

The petitioner may also be required to file an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864). This form is intended to show that the foreign national will have adequate means of financial support and will be unlikely to require government assistance.

What if I’m Not A US Citizen, Can I Still Petition For a Child Green Card?

As mentioned above, certain non-U.S. citizens can petition for family-preference visas. However, the petitioner must be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).

In order to petition on behalf of an unmarried child (under 21 years old), or an unmarried adult son or daughter (21 years or older), the lawful permanent resident must file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130). This is filed through US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The petitioner will also have to submit proof that he or she is in fact a lawful permanent resident, as well as provide evidence of the qualifying family relationship.

Once a visa becomes available, the immigrant can file for adjustment of status (Form I-485).

Child Immigration Attorney

While a family member seeking a green card for child is not required to retain a lawyer, the application process can be daunting. Whenever child immigration is involved, complexities that might be routine in an adult case can be magnified and lead to filing errors.

An experienced immigration attorney will help a client navigate the federal bureaucracy and hopefully avoid time-consuming or costly mistakes. If you are attempting to obtain a child green card and want to find out how an experienced immigration attorney can help, contact our office for more information.

If you’re looking to get a visa for a child who is a student, visit our student visa F-1 page.

A person who is issued a child green card has been granted lawful permanent residence, and has permission to live, and in some cases work, in the country. The child green card holder is also eligible to apply for citizenship. For more information on citizenship, visit our main citizenship page.


[1] INA §101(b)(1)

[2] INA §101(b)(1)(F)