This page describes some of the different ways in which U.S. citizens can help petition for a green card for their parents. In many cases, a parent who is a foreign national needs a U.S. citizen to “sponsor” their application for a visa — an important step before a green card for parents is issued. Once a person is issued a green card, they are granted lawful permanent status. This means they are allowed to live and work in the U.S., as well as apply for U.S. citizenship.
Under certain circumstances, the foreign parent who seeks a green card can file a petition on their own behalf.
This page was designed to help U.S. citizens and foreign nationals learn more about the process of obtaining parents green card and decide if they might benefit from the advice of an immigration attorney.
The following topics are discussed on this page:
- Two Types of Family-Based Immigration
- Immediate Relatives
- Parents of Armed Service Members Killed in Combat
- Violence Against Women Act of 1994
- How to apply green card for parents
- 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 family immigration case is different. Filing mistakes can be time consuming, and in some cases, can lead to denial of application. To find out how an experienced immigration attorney can help in your specific case, contact our office for more information.
Two Types of Family-Based Immigration
There are two different types of family members eligible to petition for green cards:
- If the sponsoring family member is a U.S. citizen, and qualifies as an immediate relative, they can obtain a green card for parents fairly easily.
- If the sponsoring U.S. family member qualifies as a close relative, they can apply for certain types of green cards. However, the wait times can be significantly long.
Unfortunately, in the case of petitioners hoping to obtain a green card for parents, the only way to apply is through the immediate relative category. While this category is typically a faster immigration path, foreign nationals are also more limited in their options when trying to obtain a parents green card.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines immediate relatives as children, spouses or parents of a U.S. citizen. When attempting to obtain a green card for parents, the sponsoring U.S. citizen must be 21 years of age or older. Under the law, parents can qualify as immediate relatives even if they are adoptive parents, or step parents. This goes back to a government decision made in 1967.
Back then, the U.S. Government decided in favor of a 33-year old U.S. citizen who filed a green card for parents application on behalf of her Italian stepmother. At question was whether or not the U.S. citizen could petition on her stepmother’s behalf, despite the fact that at 33 years of age, the citizen no longer fit the definition of a child as set forth in INA.
The department decided that Congress intended the law was meant, “to keep together [families] in order to alleviate the hardship of enforced separations.” It concluded that “once the required relationship has been established, [a parent] always remains a parent.”
Because the U.S. government wants to promote family unity, parents who qualify as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens don’t have to wait for a visa to become available before being issued a green card. Unlike the family preference visa system, the US Department of State does not limit the amount of immediate relative visas issued each year.
How to Apply For a Green Card for Parents
A U.S. citizen will apply green card for parents by first filing a Petition For Alien Relative (Form I-130). This can be filed concurrently with an Application to Register Permanent Residence (Form I-485). Both forms are typically filed through US Immigration and Customs Services (USCIS). Unlike family preference visas, there is usually no wait for a visa to become available once the Form I-130 is approved.
When filing a petition for parents green card on behalf of someone living outside of the country, the petitioner must file the proper documents domestically at USCIS. Exceptions to this rule might apply if the petitioner lives in a country where USCIS has an overseas field office, or where the US Department of State grants consular processing due to exceptional circumstances.
In some cases, a petitioner can file a green card for parents petition while the foreign relative is living stateside.
If you have questions about how to apply green cards for parents, contact our office to see if an experienced attorney can help.
Parents of Armed Service Members Killed in Combat
A foreign parent who had a U.S. citizen son or daughter in the U.S. Armed Services killed as the result of wounds sustained in combat is eligible to self-petition for a parents green card.
The parent may do this even if the child was under 21 years of age at the time of death. It is important when applying under these circumstances that the foreign parent file the petition within two years of the child’s death.
In order to self-petition, the foreign parent must file a Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er) or Special Immigrant (Form I-360). This form can be filed concurrently with an Application to File Permanent Residence (Form I-485). Both forms are filed through US Immigration and Customs Services (USCIS).
Violence Against Women Act of 1994
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted by Congress to protect battered women and other family members from serious domestic abuse and extreme cruelty.
Under VAWA, the foreign parent of an abusive U.S. citizen-child, may be eligible to file for a parents green card on their own behalf. Federal law requires the parent to demonstrate that he or she has been battered or subject to extreme cruelty by the citizen son or daughter.
Generally, the U.S. citizen child must be 21 or older at the time the petition is filed and the relationship must be currently abusive. In some cases, the foreign national may also apply for a parents green card if their abusive U.S citizen child renounced their citizenship within the previous two years due to a domestic violence incident. In some cases, VAWA can apply to step parents and adoptive parents.
Battered parents who wish to apply for a green card must submit a Petition for Amerasian Widow(er), or Special Immigrant Form. This form is filed through US Immigration and Customs Services (USCIS). The battered parent will be required to provide evidence of the child-abuser’s U.S. citizenship as well as evidence of the parental relationship. Also, evidence of the abuse may be required including: reports from police, judges, court officials, medical personnel, social workers, and clergy, among others.
It is important to keep in mind that immigration cases involving domestic violence can be highly complex. If you think you are eligible to self-petition for a green card for parents, contact our office to see how we can help.
U.S. citizens who wish to apply green card for parents are not required to retain the services of an immigration lawyer. However, the law is complex, and an attorney’s services can be indispensible when filing a petition for parents green card.
It’s the job of an immigration attorney to help their client avoid filing errors that could be costly, time consuming, and in some cases, lead to denials. If you are attempting to obtain a green card for parents and would like to find out if an experienced lawyer can help, contact our office for more information.
 Matter of Citino, 12 I&N Dec. 427 (BIA 1967)