How to Change Your Status If You Have a Family Member Who is a US Citizen

If you are in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa, and you have a family member who is a US citizen, you can apply for permanent residency through an adjustment of status. This process allows you to remain in the country while you are awaiting your green card.

Only immediate relatives of a US citizen or green-card holder can use this method. However, it can be expensive and time consuming.

Employment-based immigration

The employment-based adjustment of status is a method for certain noncitizens already residing in the United States to become lawful permanent residents. It allows workers whose employers have filed a green card petition on their behalf to apply for permanent residency without leaving the country. To be eligible, the petitioning employer must have used PERM, a process managed by the Department of Labor that requires demonstrating that there are no qualified U.S. workers available to fill the job. In some cases, the government will waive labor certification if it finds that the foreign national’s work will benefit the economy, cultural, or educational interests of the country.

There are five employment-based “preference” categories, with the first preference reserved for priority workers such as professionals with advanced degrees and persons of extraordinary ability. Each preference category has its own numerical cap, and in some cases, applicants from certain countries must wait for years before they can become LPRs. Some of the preference categories permit applicants to self-petition instead of being sponsored by an employer. Some of the preference categories also include family-based immigration options, such as the EB-4 for religious workers and special immigrant juveniles, and the EB-5 for immigrant investors.

Family-based immigration

Families and ethnic communities have historically acted as powerful integrating institutions, providing newcomers with different kinds of support. These sources of support allow newcomers to integrate into American culture more quickly, obtain employment and become self-sufficient. These resources are particularly critical for immigrants who are adjusting your status to family-based immigration.

In general, only immediate relatives of U.S. citizens can seek adjustment of status (AOS). Those who qualify include the spouse [see article] or child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen, as well as widows or widowers of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders).

Other categories of family-based immigration are subject to strict per-country limits, which result in long wait times for green cards. The State Department publishes monthly updates on its website that provide a breakdown of immigrant visa availability by preference category. Those who are filing petitions for family members should carefully review the current State Department visa bulletin before proceeding with their cases.

Nonimmigrant classification

If you entered the United States in a nonimmigrant visa category for a specific purpose, you can change your status within the US. However, you must meet certain requirements to do so.

This webpage offers general information about gaining a new nonimmigrant status in the United States. It is not legal advice, and ISS advisors cannot help you gain a new status.

If you are in the US and have an approved immigrant petition, you can apply for adjustment of status to become a permanent resident. This is one of two paths to a green card. The other is to apply at a US consulate abroad, which is known as consular processing. The adjustment of status process varies by individual and type of case, so we recommend you meet with an immigration attorney to learn more about it. You should also review the timelines on this page for more information about how long it might take to get your green card through this process.

Consular processing

There are many things to consider when deciding whether to pursue consular processing or adjustment of status. Both methods have their own benefits and disadvantages, but it is important to understand the differences between them before determining which method is best for you. For instance, adjustment of status allows you to remain in the United States during the entire process, while consular processing requires that you leave and reenter the country. This can be problematic for people with unauthorized employment and/or criminal histories.

Another difference is that, in most cases involving adjustment of status, attorneys are allowed to attend the interview with USCIS officers whereas interviews at consulates are normally conducted without attorney representation. In addition, you can appeal a denial by USCIS through the administrative and/or judicial processes. Lastly, if you choose to go through consular processing, you will not have the option of applying for work authorization or advance parole during the process.