There are several ways to obtain what is popularly known as a “Green Card” and thus become a lawful permanent resident of The United States. One way is through relatives. The categories of family relationships which qualify for a Green Card are summarized below.
1. FAMILY – BASED RELATIONSHIPS
One of the most important principles in U.S. immigration law is family unification. There are various categories under which family members can be reunited with their relatives who are American citizens or lawful permanent residents. The two broad categories of family members who can obtain “green cards”, which permit them to reside permanently in the U.S. are listed below. A third category of relatives who do not qualify for a green card is also listed for your reference.
A. Related Or Engaged To A U.S. Citizen
Spouses, children, brothers or sisters, parents, and those engaged to be married to a U.S. citizen can obtain a green card if the person to whom they are related or engaged files a petition with the USCIS or the American Embassy of their country of residence.
Widows or widowers of an U.S. citizens who have lived with the U.S. citizen for at least two years can file their own petition for a green card. The petition must be filed within two years of the death of the spouse.
B. Related To A Lawful Permanent Resident
Spouses or unmarried children of green card holders can obtain a green card if the spouse or parent who has the green card files a petition with the USCIS or the American Embassy of their country of residence.
C. Relatives Who Do Not Qualify For A Green Card
Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandmothers or grandfathers of U.S. citizens, or brothers, sisters, parents, or those engaged to someone who holds a green card, do not qualify for a green card based on a “family relationship”.
2. FAMILY CATEGORIES – HOW LONG IS THE WAITING PERIOD?
A. Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens – No Waiting Period
Immigrant visas are immediately available for one group of eligible aliens: Immediate relatives of American citizens. Immediate Relatives have the highest priority in immigration law because of the congressional intent to encourage families of U.S. citizens to live together and stay together
Members of this group have only to wait two to 12 months for their green cards, depending on the number of applications at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
For purposes of immigration law, you are the Immediate Relative of an American citizen and eligible for an immigrant visa without waiting if you are:
• The husband or wife of an American citizen.
• The parent of an American citizen who is at least 21 years of age.
• A child under 21 years of age (including stepchildren and children adopted before they reach the age of 16) of a U.S. citizen.
• The widow or widower of an American citizen who dies after living with you for at least two years.
B. Family Preference Categories – Waiting Periods Apply
Family-based immigrant visas which do not fall into the “Immediate Relative” category have their own preference categories, and have waiting periods. Petitions from American citizens generally have higher priority than those of lawful permanent residents. The approximate waiting periods listed below apply to all countries except Mexico and the Philippines, which generally have longer waiting periods, due the large number of petitions for family members from those countries.
FAMILY FIRST PREFERENCE: Unmarried Sons or Daughters of American Citizens Who Are Over 21 Years of Age. A maximum of 23,400 immigrant visas are now available worldwide for the Family First Preference category, reduced from the previous quota of 54,000 visas given yearly. The waiting period for this group is approximately six years.
FAMILY SECOND PREFERENCE: Spouses and Unmarried Children of Permanent Residents. This category includes husbands and wives of lawful permanent residents and their unmarried children who are under 21 years old (Category 2A), and unmarried (meaning single, divorced or widowed) sons or daughters (over 21 years old) of a lawful permanent resident (Category 2B).
An increase of 114,200 immigrant visas worldwide has been given to Second Preference aliens. In the past, only 23,400 immigrant visas were given yearly to the spouses and children of green cardholders. Currently, 77% (87,934) of the total is available for the spouses and minor children of green cardholders, and 23% (26,266) of the total is available for the unmarried children over 21 years of age. The waiting period for spouses and minor children is approximately five years, while the waiting period for unmarried children over 21 years of age is approximately nine years.
FAMILY THIRD PREFERENCE: Married Sons and Daughters of American Citizens. This category is available in the event an unmarried son or daughter in the Family First Preference category gets married before entering the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. Only 23,400 visas worldwide are made available every year for married sons and daughters of American citizens. The current waiting period for this category is approximately six years.
FAMILY FOURTH PREFERENCE: Brothers and Sisters of American Citizens. The brother or sister of a U.S. citizen must wait until the American sibling turns 21 years of age before a petition can be filed for him or her. A total of 65,000 visas worldwide are available each year for this category. The waiting period for this category is currently in excess of 12 years.