Family Petition

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The U.S. immigration system has two major categories of family-based immigrants: immediate relatives and family preference. If a U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitions a foreign family member, the immigrant will fall into one of these two categories.


The categories define the type of relationship that the immigrant has with the U.S. sponsor, and to a large extent, the priority that the immigrant will receive in obtaining a green card. The immediate relative categories are the most desirable.

Immediate Relative Categories

There are only a few immediate relative categories available. They are reserved for the spouse, unmarried children, and parents of U.S. citizens

Spouse of a U.S. Citizen

File Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence

Adopted Children

To be eligible to receive an immigrant visa, the child must have been adopted while under the age of 16

Parent of a U.S. Citizen

To petition for your parents to live in the U.S. as green card holders, you must be at least 21 years old.

Unmarried children of a U.S. citizen

The child over age 21 waits around seven years until a visa becomes available in that category.

What Are The Advantages?

The immediate relative categories have special immigration priority. That's because there is an unlimited number of visas available to immediate relatives. The immigrants in these categories do not have to wait in line for a visa number to become available for them to immigrate.

What’s more, certain bars to adjust do not apply to the IR category. This is a significant benefit for an intending immigrant who overstayed a visa or works in the U.S. without authorization.

On the other hand, family preference categories do have a wait associated with them. There is a limited number of visas for the preference categories. Therefore, waits can last up to 20 years or more in some cases.

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What is The Visa Bulletin?

You may have heard of the visa bulletin. It’s a monthly list of priority dates closely watched by many individuals waiting to immigrate to the United States. Immediate relatives do not need to worry about the visa bulletin. As mentioned previously, there is an unlimited number of visas available to immediate relatives.

Establishing An Immediate Relative Relationship

The family-based immigration process generally begins with the U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. The I-130 petition establishes a qualifying relationship and is a request for a visa number. The I-130 petition is just the beginning of the process. The intending immigrant must apply for a green card via consular processing or adjustment of status.


U.S. citizens may also sponsor a foreign fiancé to come to the United States for the purpose of marriage. The U.S. citizen starts this process by filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé. The foreign fiancé eventually enters the U.S. with a nonimmigrant K-1 visa.

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