​​​​​​The Immigration and Nationality Act provides for several categories under which Unites States citizens or Permanent Resident Aliens may petition on behalf of certain family members, allowing them to obtain permanent residence here in the United States.

However, not all categories of family relationships enjoy equal standing under our immigration laws.  Depending on the family relationship involved, and whether the relative initiating the process is a citizen or green card holder, the timeframe involved can vary from several months to more than twenty years!  Please refer to the chart below, as well as the links provided for more information on each family-based immigration category. 

Can be sponsored by
US Citizen?Permanent Resident?
Son or DaughterYesYes
Brother or SisterYes*No

                *US citizen must be at least 21 years of age

Immediate Relative vs Preference Categories
There are three types of relatives who receive the most favorable treatment under the family-based immigration system in the United States:

  • Husband/wife of US citizen
  • Biological or step-child of US citizen, below the age of 21
  • Parent of a US citizen, when the citizen is at least 21 years old

These three categories are what we refer to as “immediate relatives.”  These family members always have visas made available for them by the government, which means that the process of applying for permanent residence can begin immediately.  For all other categories, the time it will take until that family member can apply for permanent residence is decided according to the “priority dates” posted each month on the Visa Bulletin by the US Department of States.  Upon the filing of a petition by the US citizen or permanent resident, the date on which the petition is received by USCIS becomes the priority date for that relative’s case.  This means that even when the petition is approved, the relative for whom the petition was filed must wait until his or her priority date is listed as current on the Visa Bulletin before being able to begin taking the final steps towards permanent residence.    

Adjustment of Status vs. Consular Processing 

Generally, there are two procedures that allow for an applicant to seek permanent residence.  Adjustment of Status is for those already in the United States who are eligible to transition from their present status to permanent residence without being required to leave the United States and return to their home country.  For those who are located outside of the United States, or those who are currently in the United States but ineligible to seek Adjustment of Status, the final stages of the application process will take place through the issuance of an immigrant visa at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad.  This visa will allow the holder to enter the United States and be immediately processed as a permanent resident upon his or her arrival.     

Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility
Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides several grounds under which foreign nationals may be considered ineligible to immigrate to the United States (inadmissible).  These include such grounds as an individual's criminal history, health conditions, previous immigration violations or prior fraud or misrepresentation.  However, a waiver may be available for many of these grounds of inadmissibility, based on an applicant's individual circumstances and/or those of his or her close relatives in the United States.    

If you or someone in your family is interested in pursuing permanent residence in the United States through a family-based petition, you should consult with an immigration attorney in order to determine your eligibility under the immigration laws, and ensure that the correct procedures are followed.

For more information, please refer to the following links:



News feed courtesy of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services