Family-Based Immigration Law, Permanent Residency
Certain people can qualify for permanent residence (i.e. a green card) based on their relationship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. There are two paths to seeking permanent resident status in the United States through a family member: (1) adjustment of status, and (2) consular processing.
Those already present in the United States who entered legally or who had an I-130, I-140, or labor certification filed on their behalf (or a parent’s behalf) before April 30, 2001, may be eligible to adjust status in the United States.
Those outside the United States, as well as those who are inside the U.S. but entered illegally, may be able to apply for a green card based on their relationship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident through a procedure known as consular processing, which occurs at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
There are various ways an immigrant can obtain a green card through his or her family member. Please note that the processes discussed herein are simplified to provide a general overview of how the system works. Always seek legal advice to ensure that no complications arise while seeking family-based adjustment of status or consular processing.
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
You may be eligible to get a green card if you are an an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen is any spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or parent of a U.S. citizen (provided the U.S. citizen is 21 or older). Immediate relatives are immediately eligible to receive an immigrant visa. Unlike other relatives, they do not have to “wait in line” for their petitions to become current in the Visa Bulletin.
Other Family Members
Beyond immediate relatives, Congress has limited the categories of relatives who may apply for permanent residence in the U.S. The qualifying non-immediate relative categories are known as the family-based preference categories. Congress has also placed an annual quota on the number of preference category family members who may immigrate each year. As a result, there is usually a waiting period before a green card becomes available in these categories.
Preference category family members who have had an I-130 immigrant petition filed on their behalf can determine their place in line by checking the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin. To read the Visa Bulletin, an immigrant first finds which preference category he or she belongs to; these categories are determined by the type of relative he or she is. Then, the immigrant compares the priority date listed on the receipt notice for his or her immigrant petition with the date listed for his or her category. If his or her date matches the priority date, or is chronologically earlier, then the government has reached that immigrant’s place in line and he or she may file for a green card through adjustment of status or consular processing.
The family-based preference categories are as follows:
First Preference: Unmarried adult sons/daughters (21 or older) of U.S. Citizens
Second Preference (2A): Spouses and children (unmarried and under 21) of permanent residents
Second Preference (2B): Unmarried adult sons/daughters (21 or older) of permanent residents
Third Preference: Married sons/daughters (any age) of U.S. Citizens
Fourth Preference: Brothers/sisters of adult U.S. citizens
For information on Non-Permanent Residency, please view the Family Based Immigration Law Non-Permanent Residency page.