Family members of US citizens and permanent residents are the primary source of immigration to US. US citizens and permanent residents can sponsor some of their foreign citizen family members for green card. When the foreign family member can obtain the green card depends on the status of the petitioner (whether he is a citizen or a permanent resident) and the family relationship between the petitioner and the family member.
Immediate Relatives of US Citizens
So called immediate relatives of US citizens have the easiest route to immigrate to US. The category of immediate relatives includes spouses of US citizens, unmarried children under 21 of US citizens, and parents of US citizens who are 21 and older. The main advantage of being an immediate relative of a US citizen is that they are exempt from numerical quotas for the issuance of immigrant visas that apply to other family categories. The exemption means that immediate relatives, if they are otherwise admissible, will be admitted to US regardless the numerical limitations.
Other Family Categories
In addition to immediate relatives of US citizens, there are other family based categories which are subject to numerical limitations. Family-sponsored immigrants are divided into four preference categories:
1) First Preference – unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens. This group includes unmarried sons and daughter who are 21 and older. Each year 23400 visas are available to family members who fall under the first preference.
2) Second Preference – spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents. This group is divided into 2 categories: (a) spouses and unmarried sons and daughter under 21, and (b) unmarried sons and daughters who are 21 and older. Permanent residents cannot sponsor their married sons and daughters. The annual limit of visas in the second preference category is 114200. It should be noted that 77% of available visas in the second preferences category is allocated to spouses and unmarried sons and daughters under 21.
3) Third Preference – married sons and daughters of US citizens. This preference category includes married sons and daughter of US citizens whether they are under or over 21. The annual limit of visas available in this preference category is 23400.
4) Fourth Preference – brothers and sisters of US citizens. To fall under the fourth preference category the siblings must have at least one common parent. 65,000 visas are available in this category annually.
Because of the limited number of visas available each year, family members of US citizens, other than immediate relatives, might have to wait for years in order to obtain permanent residence in US. It should also be noted, that because of per country limits on issuance of visas, citizens of certain countries have to wait much longer compared to others. The waiting times for all 4 preference categories are available in the Visa Bulletin which is updated by US Department of State monthly.
Family based immigration gives an opportunity to US citizens and permanent residents to bring their family members to US. However, US citizens and permanent residents must keep in mind that in many cases they might have to wait for years until their family members will be admitted to US.
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