Many people know that if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident you can get a green card for your relatives living abroad, but some people do not now how to accomplish this. Thankfully, the procedure for filing for a family member is relatively simple, when compared to employment-based or other visas. There is also a simple trick to making sure that your family is able to join you in the U.S. as soon as possible.

In order to get a family member a green card, you must file a petition (Form I-130) on their behalf. This petition basically says that they are your family member and that you are willing to sponsor them when they come to the U.S. You must attach to the petition some documents which prove the relationship, i.e. marriage or birth certificate, as well as proof of your citizenship or status as a lawful permanent resident.

Who you can file this petition for depends on if you are a permanent resident or citizen. Permanent residents can file on behalf of their spouse and children. Citizens can additionally file on behalf of their parents and siblings. Unfortunately you cannot petition directly for other relatives, such as grandparents, cousins, or aunts/uncles. Green card for these more distant relatives can be accomplished by “stringing together” petitions. For example, you could petition for your parents who could eventually petition for their parents, your grandparents. Of course this process does take longer, but it is often the only way to enable these relatives to live and work in the U.S.

The wait time for the green cards varies depending on whether the petitioner is a permanent resident or citizen, familial relationship, and country of origin. The fastest is for the spouse and minor (under 21) children of citizens, there actually is no limit to the number of these visas available, and you can file an application (Form I-485) at the time you file the petition. For everybody else, however, there is a limit to the number of visas the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service issues every year. Because more people submit applications for green cards that the quota allows to be issued, a backlog has developed. This backlog can be longer than 12 years for some categories, or as short as two for others. Only after waiting for this backlog to be processed can your relative actually file an application and be issued a green card.

Which brings us to the simple trick: petition for your relatives as soon as possible. This will be immediately after you have been granted permanent residency or citizenship. You may have status in the U.S. for several years before your family member decides that they would like to join you. But, every day that you wait before filing a petition is another day that you will be separated from your family. The relative simplicity and low cost ($190) for filing a petition probably makes it worth while even if your family members abroad are not sure they want to live in the US.

All the forms mentioned, and additional information on the family petition process, are available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, If you still find the process confusing, or have additional questions, you should contact your local mosque or community organization to see if they can refer you to a qualified immigration attorney.