Family-Based Green Card

This section illustrates how US citizens or permanent residents can bring their relatives to the United States.

Family-based immigration is limited by statute to 480,000 persons per year. Family-based immigration is governed by a formula that imposes a cap on every family-based immigration category, with the exception of "immediate relatives" (spouses, minor unmarried children, and parents of U.S. citizens).

The formula allows unused employment-based immigration visas in one year to be dedicated to family-based immigration the following year, and unused family-based immigration visas in one year to be added to the cap the next year. This formula means that there are slight variations from year to year in family-based immigration. Because of the numerical cap, there are long waiting periods to obtain a visa in most family-based immigrant categories.

There is no numerical cap on the number of immediate relatives (spouses, minor unmarried children and parents of U.S. citizens) admitted annually to the U.S. as immigrants. However, the number of immediate relatives are subtracted from the 480,000 cap on family-based immigration to determine the number of other family-based immigrants to be admitted in the following year (with a floor of 226,000).

Immediate Relatives

Immediate Relatives are not restricted by annual numerical limitations.  They are the children, spouse and parents of a U.S. citizen.

A U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years of age in order to sponsor his or her parents.  The term "child" usually means an unmarried person under 21 years of age who is a legitimate or a legally legitimatized child.

Widows or widowers of US citizens may apply if they submit their petition within two years of their spouse's death and they have not remarried during this time.

Children are defined as natural-born (legitimate), adopted step-children, or legitimated, and can be sponsored for immigration if they meet all the criteria of the category that applies to them.

You must prepare and file a separate application for each immediate relative who wishes to immigrate, as there is no derivative status for accompanying members to apply for immigrant visas, as in other preference classifications.

Non-Immediate Relatives

Non-immediate relatives are subject to annual quotas.  They are admitted into the United States on a "first come, first serve" basis.  These relatives are ranked by levels of preferences.

First Preference - visas are for unmarried sons or daughters, over 21 years of age, or U.S. citizens.

Second Preference - visas are for spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents of the United States.  This category is divided into three types:

Spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents,

Legalization beneficiaries - spouses and children of legalized aliens (persons granted permanent residence under IRCA and special agricultural workers (SAWs),

Unmarried sons and daughters aged 21 or over.

Third Preference - visas are for married sons and daughters of US citizens.

Fourth Preference - visas are for brothers and sisters of US citizens (US citizen sponsors must be 21 years of age or over).  A native-born or naturalized citizen of the US can petition for her or her brother or sister from any country.