UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS OF U.S. FAMILY BASED IMMIGRATION

One of the most common methods of obtaining Legal Permanent Resident status (LPR or "green card") in the United States is through an offer of sponsorship from a relative who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident ("green card" holder). One of the principal objectives of U.S. immigration policy is the reunification of families. This high priority is reflected in the preferences given to family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.


Under U.S. law, family sponsored immigration
falls into two basic categories:

  1. Immediate Relatives of U.S. citizens
    (Immediate Relative Petitions)
  2. Other close relatives of U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents
    (Preference Petitions)

IMMEDIATE RELATIVES OF U.S. CITIZENS

Potential immigrants who qualify as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are highly favored under U.S. law. No numerical limit or quota is placed on how many immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may become permanent residents in any given year. However, even though no limit is placed on the number of visas available once all requirements of qualification have been met, the process by which family relationships are documented and petitions submitted for approval is both time consuming and confusing for those unfamiliar with the immigration system. Timely legal advice and guidance at the earliest possible stage is recommended to avoid unnecessary delay or disappointment in being reunited with your immediate relatives. The following are familial relationships which serve as a basis to apply for legal permanent residence (a "green card") under this category:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens: Please note that due to past abuses from "sham marriages" entered into only for immigration purposes, specific definitions and rules as to what constitutes a qualifying marriage apply. In addition, different U.S. Embassies and Consulates apply very different subjective standards in making the discretionary decisions as to which marriages are suspect. In South East Asia, the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City is generally regarded as the most problematic in this regard, not without cause. Legal advice should be obtained as to qualification of a specific marital union.
    NOTE: If you are not yet married and are looking for information on K-1 Fiancée visas, please visit our K1-Fiancée visas page
  • Minor Children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens.
    NOTE: "Child" is strictly defined under immigration law and may exclude some persons considered by the citizen to be their child.
  • Parents of U.S. citizens over 21 years of age.
    NOTE: Subject to specific parent-child definitions.
  • Spouses of deceased U.S. citizens
    NOTE: Must have been married at least two (2) years at time of death.

CLOSE RELATIVES OF U.S. CITIZENS
AND LEGAL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
(Family Sponsored Preference Immigrant Category)

Other types of close relatives may be sponsored for immigration by family members who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. This category of family sponsored immigration is subject to limits in the number of visas available each year. Since only a limited number of visas are available each year, Congress has divided these groups of relatives into preference categories, ranking them in the order for which they are preferred for immigration to the United States. The higher the preference, the more quickly a visa generally can be allotted to the alien. In addition, certain countries are deemed to be over-subscribed and are subject to longer waiting periods. Generally, the countries subject to the longest waiting periods are India, China (mainland and Taiwan) and the Philippines. Regular State Department Visa Bulletins are received in our office setting forth current priority dates from general future waiting periods for individual countries may be determined. Your attorney will explain the rather complex priority date system to you during an initial consultation and how long of a wait you may generally anticipate for a visa to become available to your relative.

  • First Preference: Unmarried sons or daughters (21 years of age or older) of U.S. Citizens. The son or daughter must have qualified as children of the citizen when they were under 21 years of age applying the same specific definitions and guidelines referred to in section (2) of Immediate Relatives, above.
  • Second Preference: The same cautions with regard to marital status and definition of child apply.
    • Spouses or children (under 21 years of age) of a legal permanent resident (green card holder).
    • Unmarried child (21 years of age and older) of a legal permanent resident (green card holder).
  • Third Preference: The same cautions with regard to marital status and definition of child apply.
    • Married sons and daughters (21 and over) and their spouses and children of U.S. citizens.
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters (and their spouses and children) of U.S. citizens (over 21).

For those who are not yet married and are interested in information on K-1 Fiancée Visas please visit our K-1 Fiancee Visas page

We welcome questions from prospective clients.

The practice of U.S. immigration law is our dedicated life's work and, in addition to our families, the most important thing in the world to our attorneys and staff.

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USFAMILYVISA.COM, K1LAW.COM and K1LAWYER.COM are public information resources of White & Weber Ltd., Attorneys at Law.
We are committed to making the confusing U.S. immigration and visa system more understandable to, and more humane for, our clients and the general public.
We are dedicated to protecting our client's rights and to advancing the cause of family reunification for our clients. Bringing families together in the United States is our professional cause. Together we can build a better, stronger America by building stronger, more diverse families in the United States.