Immigration through an immediate family member

Acquiring permanent residency through a family member is the most common way of immigrating to the United States. All that is required is a classification based on the qualifying family relationship and an eligible family member/sponsor.

The main difference between immediate and preference relatives is that immediate relatives are allowed to immigrate in unlimited numbers. Preference relatives, on the other hand, are subject to annual numerical limitations, which means that depending on the type of relationship, they must wait for the visa number to become available/ for the family-based preference category to become current.

The worldwide limit on U.S. immigrant admissions is 675,000. The total number of visas (both family-based and employment-based) that any country can receive in a fiscal year is capped at seven percent (7%). So, no country can receive more than 47,250 family-based and employment-based visas combined. This number includes not only the immigrants themselves, but their eligible spouses and minor children as well.

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are not counted as there is no cap on it.

The following is a breakdown of the qualifying relationships, the preference category they fall into, the number of visas available each year, and the processing times:

Immediate Relatives of US citizens Spouse / Parent (A USC must be over the age of 21 to petition for his/her parent) Child (must be under the age of 21)Unlimited visas
First PreferenceUnmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens (USC)23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference
Second PreferenceSpouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Legal Permanent Residents (LPR)114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, and any unused first preference numbers: A. Spouses and Children: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit; B. Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older): 23% of the overall second preference limitation.
Third PreferenceMarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens (USC)23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.
Fourth PreferenceBrothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens (USC)65,000, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences.

Eligible Family Member/Sponsor

In order to be eligible to sponsor a relative to immigrate to the United States, the sponsor must meet the following criteria:

1. Must be a U.S. Citizen (USC) or a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States and be able to provide documentation proving the status.

2. Must prove that he/she can support the relative at 125% above the 2008 poverty guidelines.

3. Must be able to provide proof of the qualifying relationship.

Qualifying Family Relationships

If you are a USC, you may sponsor:

• A spouse.

• An unmarried child under 21 years old.

• An unmarried child over 21.

• A married child of any age.

• A brother or sister if you are at least 21 years old; or

• A parent if you are at least 21 years old.

If you are an LPR, you may sponsor:

• A spouse; or

• An unmarried son or daughter of any age.

More distant relatives such as aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents do not qualify as either immediate or preference relatives. Married children, parents, siblings of LPRs also do not qualify for sponsorship until the LPR becomes a naturalized USC.

Application Process

First, the sponsoring relative (sponsor) must petition to the USCIS for the alien relative, whether such relative is an immediate family member or a preference member. The petition must be supported by evidence documenting the qualifying relationship, the sponsoring relative’s immigration status as a USC or LPR, and appropriate fees.

When the petition is filed for an immediate relative not subject to annual numerical limitation and the relative is in the US, an application for adjustment of status may be filed at the same time. An adjustment of status is the actual process where one converts their status to that of a lawful permanent resident.

If the petition is approved and the alien is an immediate relative, they can either adjust status or immediately apply for an immigrant visa at a US consulate abroad. If the alien is not an immediate relative, the alien must wait until a visa number becomes available to either adjust status or apply for an immigrant visa through the State Department and process the green card through a US consulate abroad. In such cases, the priority date is the date on which the USCIS receives the complete relative application.

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