A spouse of a U.S. citizen is eligible for a green card as an “immediate relative.”Immediate relatives are not subject to quotas, so they do not need to wait until a visa is available.

To obtain green card based on marriage the immigrant must be:

  • legally married (it doesn’t matter in what country) to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident;
  • not married to someone else at the same time;
  • not married to someone who has another wife or husband.

The process for applying for permanent resident status depends on whether the foreign spouse is within or outside of the United States.


Parents of U.S. citizens are eligible for permanent resident status as immediate relatives. The U.S. citizen child must be 21 years of age or older to apply for a parent.

If the U.S. citizen child is adopted, the adoption must have been finalized before the child’s 16th birthday. Furthermore, the parent must have had legal custody of the child for at least two years, either before or after the adoption. The child must also have resided with the adoptive parent for at least two years either before or after the adoption.

If the U.S. citizen is a stepchild of the alien parent, the marriage creating the stepchild relationship must have taken place before the child’s 18th birthday.

The parents of a spouse are not considered “parents” for immigration purposes. In other words, a U.S. citizen may not sponsor an immigrant petition for a father-in-law or mother-in-law. The spouse may petition for parents if that spouse is a U.S. citizen.


Children of U.S. citizens may obtain permanent residency in the United States. As long as the petition for an immigrant visa is filed before the child turns 21, the child qualifies as an immediate relative, and, therefore, the procedure to adjust status takes less time.

Children over 21 qualify under the first preference category. Children in this category must wait until a visa becomes available before they can enter the United States as a permanent resident. The State Department’s Visa Bulletin shows the wait for visas for each of the preference categories.

An adopted child qualifies as long as the adoption was finalized before the child’s 16th birthday.  The adoptive parents must have legal custody of the child for two years before or after the adoption. The child must reside with the adoptive parents for two years before or after the adoption.

A step-child qualifies as a child, if the marriage occurred before the step-child’s 18th birthday.

Brother / Sister

The U.S. citizen of 21 years of age or older can apply for green card for his brothers and sisters. To qualify as a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, the brother or sister and the U.S. citizen must share at least one parent in common.

The number of permanent residents in this category is limited to 65,000 per year, plus any visas not used by the first three preferences. The State Department’s Visa Bulletin shows the current wait times for a visa by category.Immediate family members of the brother or sister (such as their spouse and children) may also receive a green card at the same time.