U.S. immigration law allows certain individuals to gain permanent residence due to their familial relationships to U.S. Citizens or U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR). In each case, the U.S. citizen or LPR must sponsor and petition for his/her relatives to bring them to the US. Different family-based visa preference categories were created according to the sponsor's status and relationship to the alien.

Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas (Unlimited)
  • IR-1: Spouse of a US Citizen
  • IR-2: Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a US Citizen
  • IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a US Citizen
  • IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the US by a US citizen

IR-5: Parent of a US Citizen who is at least 21 years old

Family Preference Immigrant Visa Categories (Limited)
  • Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens, and their minor children, if any. (23,400 per year)
  • Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs. At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters. (114,200 per year)
  • Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of US citizens, and their spouses and children. (23,400 per year)
  • Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of US citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the US citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000 per year)

If family members of US citizens or Permanent Residents are already legally in the US in another status, they may qualify to directly adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident status by filing a Form I-485 without needing to return to their home country.

For family members outside of the US, or those in the US who do not qualify for direct adjustment of status, consular processing will take place at the US Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of foreign residence.

Application Procedure for Permanent Residence for a Relative

As a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, the first step to getting your relative a Green Card is filing a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with the USCIS to establish your relationship to your relative. A separate form must be filed for each eligible relative who wishes to immigrate.

A US citizen 21 years of age or older may petition for the following family members:

  • Spouse
  • Child/Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings

US citizens under the age of 21 may only petition for their spouse and/or children.

A Lawful Permanent Resident may only petition for a spouse and any unmarried children.

With the I-130 petition you must include proof of your relationship to your relative and proof of your US citizenship. Filing a Form I-130 and proving a qualifying familial relationship gives your relative a place in line with others waiting to immigrate from the same country or region and based on the same type of familial relationship. When they reach the front of the line they may apply for their immigrant visas.

As a sponsor you must also be able to show that you can financially support your relative(s) once they come to America. When the time comes for your relative to immigrate, you must agree to be his or her financial sponsor by filing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. If you do not meet the financial qualifications, other individuals will need to make this commitment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Which relatives may I petition for?

 Any U.S. citizen can file a petition for the following relatives:

  • Husband or wife
  • Children, married or unmarried (U.S. Immigration Law gives children different preference classifications based on their age and marital status)

A U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years or older may also petition for the following relatives:

  • Parents
  • Brothers or sisters.

A Permanent Resident of the United States can file a petition for the following relatives:

  • Husband or wife; and
  • Unmarried child(ren), regardless of age.

Note: Only U.S. citizens may petition for married children.

  1. What about my relative's family?

In most cases, when your relative reaches the front of the line, your relative's spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age can join him or her by also applying for an immigrant visa. (If the family member is already in the United States, he or she may be able to file a Form I-485 application to adjust status based on the relative's approved visa petition.)

  1. After I file, how long will it be before my relative can immigrate?

The law gives special consideration to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, which includes a U.S. citizen's spouse, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents.

There is no waiting list to immigrate for these relatives.

  • The U.S. Department of State will invite them to apply for an immigrant visa as soon as they approve the I-130 petition.
  • If your petition has been approved, and your relatives are currently in the United States after entering legally, they may be able to file applications to adjust their status with the USCIS directly.

For most relatives of Permanent Residents and other relatives of U.S Citizens, the combination of high demand and the limits set by law on how many people can immigrate each year means that they may have to wait several years. When your relative reaches the front of the line, the U.S. Department of State will contact your relative and invite him or her to apply for an immigrant visa. To see current wait times, visit Visa Bulletins on the State Department's website.

  1. Can my relative wait in the United States until becoming a Permanent Resident?

No. Your relative's approved I-130 petition only gives your relative a place in line among those waiting to immigrate. It does not give your relative permission to live or work in the United States while he/she is waiting to apply for permanent residence. If someone enters illegally or stays without legal status, it will affect the person's eligibility to become a permanent resident.

  1. What if I filed a petition for a relative while I was a Permanent Resident but I am now a U.S. Citizen?

If you become a U.S. citizen while your relative is waiting for a visa, you can upgrade your relative's visa classification and advance the processing of that petition by notifying the appropriate agency of your naturalization. As a U.S. citizen, your spouse and any unmarried children under age 21 will have visas immediately available to them.

  1. Can I help bring my fiancé(e) to the United States?

Yes, if you are a U.S. Citizen. If your fiancé(e) lives overseas, you may file a Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e).  This would allow your fiancé(e) to enter the United States on a K-1 nonimmigrant visa and stay in the U.S. for 90 days for the purpose of getting married. You must marry within these 90 days or else your fiancé(e) must depart within the 90-day period.

After you are married in the U.S., you, as a U.S. citizen, may file a Form I-485 to adjust your new spouse's status to that of Permanent Legal Resident. 

  • If you instead marry your fiancé(e) overseas, you may simply file an I-130 petition to bring your spouse to the United States.
  • If your fiancé(e) is already in the U.S. in another legal status and you wish to marry in the U.S., you may file an I-130 petition for your new spouse after you are married.
  • If your fiancé(e) has an unmarried child under the age of 21, the child may also be eligible to immigrate, first coming to the U.S. on a K-2 nonimmigrant visa.

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