Family Members and Sponsors

Which Family Members Can a Citizen Sponsor?

U.S. citizens can petition (file an application for) each parent, a spouse, and each child under 21 years of age. These family members, due to their nearness to the US citizen, are known as immediate relatives. Importantly, one family member can petition the foreigner and another person can sponsor them.

A child includes:

  • stepchildren if the marriage to the parent of the child occurred before the child’s 18th birthday
  • an adopted child if the adoption occurred before 16 years of age
  • a child born out of wedlock in certain situations

If the relationship meets this definition of “child,” a U.S. citizen can also petition their adoptive parent or stepparent.

A spouse is any person to whom the US citizen is married if the marriage is legal where it took place. Thus, U.S. citizens can petition their same-sex spouses if the marriage occurred in the United States.

A U.S. citizen can also petition a brother or sister, and a son or daughter over 21 years of age. These family members fall in preference categories, and it does not matter whether they are married or not. If they are married, the spouse and children of the family member are included in the petition.

The signature of a non-spouse family member is not required to sponsor them. So, if a citizen wants to eventually give a parent the option of someday retiring to the United States, they can begin the process at any time.

Which Family Members Can a Resident Sponsor?

Legal permanent residents (Green Card holders) can also sponsor family members by filing petitions, including for unmarried sons and daughters over 21 years of age, and spouses. These are all preference category family members. A legal permanent resident must apply for naturalization, and be approved, before filing a petition for a parent.  

A child is a:

  • stepchild if the marriage to the parent of the child occurred before the child’s 18th birthday
  • an adopted child if the adoption occurred before 16 years of age 
  • a child born out of wedlock in certain situations 

Thus, a person with a Green Card can – in some cases — file a petition for stepchildren, adopted children, and children born out of wedlock.  If the person who received the green card is the “child,” they may be able to petition for their stepparent or adoptive parent.

The US citizen or legal permanent resident family member who files the application is known as the Petitioner. Each family member who is sponsored and receives the benefit of the application (a Green Card) is known as a Beneficiary.   

A legal permanent resident parent can file a petition for an unmarried adult son or daughter without their child’s signature.