Family immigration laws make it easier for relatives of U.S. citizens to gain permanent residency in America. With sponsorship, they can can apply for permanent residency status or an immigration visa number based on preference categories.
Family members who want to become immigrants based on family-based immigration laws are divided into “preference” categories, immediate relatives or family preference. Each category is based on their relationship to the person sponsoring them. U.S. citizens may sponsor parents, spouses, children and adopted children, brothers and sisters, and married and unmarried sons and daughters. Permanent residents of the U.S. may only sponsor spouses, children, and unmarried adult sons and daughters. A Chicago immigration attorney familiar with preference laws can explain specific categories:
- Immediate Relatives – Immediate relatives are parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21 of U.S. citizen petitioners. They are not subject to immigration quotas.
- Parents — U.S. citizens can sponsor their parents for green cards. Parents are considered “immediate relatives” and are not subject to immigration quotas.
- Marriage – U.S. citizens can sponsor their foreign-born spouse for a marriage-based green card. Spouses are considered an “immediate relative” and are not subject to immigration quotas.
- Brothers and Sisters – U.S. citizens over the age of 21 can sponsor their brothers and/or sisters for green cards. They are considered “family preference” and are subject to immigration quotas.
- Unmarried Sons and/or Daughters – U.S. citizens and parents may sponsor their unmarried adult sons and/or daughters over the age of 21 for green cards. They are considered “family preference” and are subject to immigration quotas.
- Married Sons and/or Daughters – U.S. citizens and parents may sponsor their married sons and/or daughters of any age for green cards. They are considered “family preference” and are subject to immigration quotas.
- Getting Married – As the unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen who is getting married prior to becoming a permanent resident, status will convert from “Unmarried Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen” to “Married Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen.” This change in categories may result in a significant delay in an immigrant visa becoming available. A Chicago immigration attorney can document changes in marital status after Form I-130 has been filed.
- Adopted Children – U.S. citizens who have adopted a child in another country can sponsor these children for green cards, but laws and restrictions of the foreign country may apply.. Adopted children are considered “immediate relatives” and are not subject to immigration quotas.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number. It is immediately available and not based on limited quotas. Family members who are not considered immediate relatives must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available after it is approved. Since there are immigrant visa quotas each year, there may be a waiting period after the immigration visa petition is approved. In some cases, several years could pass between the time the immigrant visa petition is approved and the State Department issues an immigrant visa number. Because U.S. law also limits the number of immigrant visas available by country, there may be a longer wait if the immigrant visa comes from a country with a high demand. A Chicago immigration attorney who understands quota limits can work to expedite immigration visa approval and status.
The Immigration and Nationality act, established in 1952, limits the number of immigrants who can enter the U.S. from any one country. Currently, no group of permanent immigrants from a single country can exceed 7% of total immigrants each year. This includes both family-based and employment-based immigrants. This quota was established to prevent dominating immigration patterns from any one immigrant group entering the U.S.
Process for a Family-Based Green Card
The sponsoring relative who is a U.S. citizen must file an I-130 Petition for their Alien Relative. This petition must be accompanied by proof of relationship and approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the sponsoring relative is a resident of Illinois, or any other state, the petition can be filed through a Chicago immigration attorney.
Getting the I-130 petition processed may take months due to the number of applications in the system. Immediate family members (parents, spouses, and unmarried children under age 21 will have priority status for the petition, but it may still take several months to a year for approval. For other relatives under family preference, it may take even longer for the petition to process.
Once the petition is approved, subject to immigrant visa number availability, final processing will take place through the National Visa Center, an immigration visa number will then be issued, followed by an interview and application at a nearby U.S. consulate office.