Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is normally the first thing used by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to start the U.S. immigration process—that is, to "petition" for—a family member to get a green card. The "petitioner" who submits Form I-130 has to provide enough evidence to convince U.S. immigration authorities of two things (according to 8 C.F.R. § 1245.2(a)(2)(B)):
The I-130 must also make clear that the beneficiary qualifies for an immigrant visa and green card based on a close family relationship with the petitioner. For example, siblings of U.S. citizens can qualify for immigrant visas, but siblings of permanent residents cannot. (See Green Cards for Your Family: Sponsorship Rules for more information on eligibility.)
In most cases, the immigrant must wait until USCIS has approved the Form I-130 submission to proceed with the green card application. Conveniently, however, in some situations, when the immigrant is already living in the United States, Form I-130 can be filed at the same time as an application for a green card, or "concurrently," as described in this article.
One issue to keep in mind, though, is that if there's a "C" in your category now, but a waiting list later develops such that your priority date is no longer current, you might not be eligible for a green card by the time USCIS is ready to act on your application. See an attorney for a full analysis.
Before we can explain how and why this works, we first have to discuss what a "green card application" is.
There are two main procedural ways in which somebody can receive a green card:
Only in the first instance, however, is it possible to submit applications concurrently. In other words, some applicants can submit Form I-130, the visa petition, together with Form I-485, the USCIS application for "adjustment of status" within the United States, and submit them all to USCIS. After USCIS approves the adjustment of status packet (normally after an in-person interview), the green card applicant receives lawful permanent resident status, or a green card. This is sometimes referred to as "one-step adjustment."
One-step adjustment is an option when there is an immediately available immigrant "visa number" (an opening for someone to become a permanent resident) and the immigrant is both living in the U.S. and eligible to use adjustment of status as an application procedure. The latter usually requires that the person have entered and be living in the U.S. in lawful status. See Who Can Apply for a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status for details.
One common scenario in which one-step adjustment of status is an option is when a U.S. citizen is petitioning for a husband or wife, and that person is living in or entered the U.S. with a visa, such as tourist (B-2) student (F-1) or specialty temporary worker (H-1B). In those cases, an immigrant visa number is immediately available because the spouse of a U.S. citizen is an immediate relative, for whom there is no limit on the number of green cards and thus no waiting period.
The immigrating spouse can, in such a case, submit a Form I-485 at the same time that the U.S. citizen husband or wife submits Form I-130. On Form I-485, the immigrating spouse would check the box that says: "I am applying for an adjustment of status to permanent resident status because . . . An immigrant petition giving me an immediately available immigrant visa number has been approved."
Other immediate relatives for whom there is no limit in the number of available green cards include parents and children (under 21 and unmarried) of U.S. citizens. Assuming that there is a valid relationship for immigration purposes and the parent or child is in the U.S. and "admissible," those immediate relatives would also be able to submit Form I-485 at the same time as the petitioner submits Form I-130.
If you are filing Form I-360 as the victim of abuse by a U.S. citizen spouse or parent, you may also utilize one-step adjustment. Religious workers filing an I-360, however, must wait for the I-360 to be approved, and cannot file it together with an I-485.
It's less common, but in some cases family members in the preference categories, such as spouses and children of U.S. lawful permanent residents, can use the concurrent, one-step filing procedure. This is typically because they are in the U.S. lawfully when their priority date becomes current, or they see a "C" in the Visa Bulletin in their category, meaning it's current for everyone.
Though this article mainly discusses immigration categories that use an I-130 visa petition, it's worth adding that it's also a possibility in some employment-based cases, though we won't discuss the details here. See an attorney.
Notably, the 2022 EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act (RIA) has newly allowed EB-5 investors and their derivative family members to file Form I-485 at the same time as filing Form I-526E, Immigrant Petition by Regional Center Investor, or at any point prior to Form I-526 approval. This one-step filing is possible only when the applicant has a current priority date.
The mere fact that one-step adjustment is available as an option does not mean that USCIS will approve the petition or adjustment of status application. To actually receive a green card, the immigrant must, among other things, be eligible for adjustment of status and be admissible to the United States.
If the immigrating relative entered the U.S. unlawfully, or has committed criminal or immigration violations, neither of those are likely to be true—in which case applying for one-step adjustment could land the immigrant in removal proceedings. For more information, see Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out, and Consequences of Unlawful Presence in the U.S.: Three- and Ten-Year Time Bars. Also consult with an immigration attorney for a full evaluation of your family's situation and possibilities.