Family Sponsored Immigration

Many people become permanent residents (get a green card) through family members. The United States promotes family unity and allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to petition for certain relatives to come and live permanently in the United States. You may be eligible to get a green card through a family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or through the special categories described below. For more information on the categories below, please contact our office. 

There are two distinct paths through which you can get your green card. Many family members who are already in the United States may qualify for adjustment of status to permanent residence in the United States, which means they are able to complete their immigrant processing without having to return to their home country. Those relatives outside the United States or those who are not eligible to adjust status in the United States may be eligible for consular processing through a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad that has jurisdiction over their foreign place of residence.

L
isted below are short summaries of each of the possible options and outcomes. 



If Your Family Member is a U.S. Citizen

You may be able to get a green card as an immediate relative or as a family member in a preference category if your U.S. citizen relative files a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for you. For more information on immigrant petitions, please contact our office. Listed below are the various options for family members of U.S. citizens. 

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Marriage to U.S. Citizen

Foreign national spouses of U.S. citizens qualify for a green card as an immediate relative. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are exempt from quotas and can generally process their applications quickly. Immediate relatives include spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and parents of U.S. citizens who are over 21 years of age. 

Because of the perception that a large number of fraudulent marriages are entered into solely for the benefit of obtaining the Green Card, Congress enacted the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment (IMFA) in 1986.

This amendment dictates that when a foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen is given permanent resident status before the second year anniversary of the marriage, then that green card residence is subject to a conditional grant of residency for two years. In other words, spouses of U.S. citizens are granted a two-year conditional green card, unless the marriage has been in existence for at least two years at the time the applicant is admitted as a resident. Conditional permanent residents must apply to remove the conditional nature of the green card during the 90-day window prior to the expiration of the conditional green card.

As discussed above, the process may vary, depending on whether the foreign national spouse is located.

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Parents or Children of U.S. Citizens

Only U.S. citizens are eligible to petition for their parent(s) to live permanently in the United States.

To promote family unity, immigration law allows U.S. citizens to petition for certain qualified relatives to come and live permanently in the United States. Eligible immediate relatives include the U.S. citizen’s:

  • Spouse (see above)
  • Unmarried child under the age of 21
  • Parent (if the U.S. citizen is over the age of 21)

Immediate relatives have special immigration priority and do not have to wait in line for a visa number to become available for them to immigrate because there are an unlimited number of visas for their particular categories.

As discussed above, the process may vary, depending on whether the foreign national parent or child is located.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Turning 21 years of age. When an immediate relative child of a U.S. citizen reaches the 21 years of age, he or she generally will become a “first preference” (F1) category son or daughter (over 21 years of age) of a U.S. citizen, and will no longer have a visa immediately available. This change may result in a significant delay in adjustment of status or visa processing because he or she will now need to wait for an immigrant visa to become available. 
  • Child Status Protection Act. In certain cases, the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) may allow you to retain the classification of “child” even if you have reached age 21. Generally, your age is “frozen” as of the date your U.S. citizen parent files Form I-130 for you. To determine if the CSPA applies to you, please contact our office.
  • Getting Married. If an immediate relative child under age 21 gets married, he or she can no longer be classified as an “immediate relative” and will become a “third preference” (F3) category married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and a visa would no longer be immediately available. You must notify us of any change in your marital status after Form I-130 has been filed for you and prior to becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa.

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Other Family of U.S. Citizens

To promote family unity, immigration law allows U.S. citizens to petition for certain qualified relatives to come and live permanently in the United States. The relatives who are not immediate relatives as described above, may be a qualifying relative who falls within a preference category. You are a family member of a U.S. citizen in a preference category if you are:

  • An unmarried son or daughter (21 years or older) of a U.S. citizen
  • A married son or daughter (any age) of a U.S. citizen
  • A sibling (brother or sister) of a U.S. citizen

Congress has limited the number of relatives who may immigrate under these categories each year so there is usually a waiting period before an immigrant visa number becomes available.

This section discusses the steps required to get a green card (permanent residence) for relatives of a U.S. citizen in a preference category.

Get a Green Card While Inside the United States

If you are currently in the United States and are one of the specified categories of relatives of a U.S. citizen in a preference category, you may be able to become a permanent resident in two steps.

Step One – Your U.S. citizen family member (sponsor) must file the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for you and it must be approved. You must wait for your priority date in your immigrant visa category to become current. Your priority date is the date when the Form I-130 is properly filed (with correct fee and signature) on your behalf by your U.S. citizen relative. For more information on priority dates, please contact our office.

Step Two – Once the priority date in your visa category is current, you may file for Adjustment of Status with Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.  Adjustment of Status is the process you go through to become a Permanent Resident. For more information, please contact our office.

Get a Green Card While Outside the United States

If you are currently outside the United States and are one of the specified categories of relatives of a U.S. citizen in a preference category, you can become a permanent resident through consular processing. Consular processing is when the USCIS works with the U.S. Department of State to issue a visa on an approved Form I-130 petition when a visa is available. In this process the Department of State will issue you a visa. If approved, you may then travel on the visa and will officially become a permanent resident when admitted at a U.S. port of entry. For information on consular processing, please contact our office.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA). In certain cases, the CSPA may allow you to retain the classification of “child” even if you have reached age 21. Generally, your age is “frozen” as of the date your U.S. citizen parent files Form I-130 for you. To determine if the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) applies to you, please contact our office.
  • Getting Married. If you are the unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and you get married prior to becoming a permanent resident, then you no longer qualify as an “Unmarried Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen” and will convert to the category of “Married Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen.” This change in categories may result in a significant delay in your immigrant visa becoming available. You must notify the USCIS of any change in your marital status after Form I-130 has been filed for you and prior to becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa. For more information on priority dates, please contact our office.

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If Your Family Member is a U.S. Permanent Resident

To promote family unity, immigration law allows permanent residents of the United States (green card holders) to petition for certain eligible relatives to come and live permanently in the United States.  A permanent resident may petition for his/her spouse and unmarried child(ren) of any age to immigrate to the United States. Congress has limited the number of relatives who may immigrate under these categories each year so there is generally a waiting period before an immigrant visa number becomes available. If your family relationship qualifies you as an eligible relative of a U.S. permanent resident, then you are in what is called a “family preference category.”

NOTE: The wait times for these petitions tend to be very long, as many as 5 to 16 years.

For more information on immigrant petitions, please contact our office. Listed below are the various options for family members of U.S. permanent residents. 

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Spouse and Minor Children of U.S. Permanent Resident

This section discusses the steps required to get a green card for relatives of a permanent resident (in a Family 2nd Preference category). 

Get a Green Card While Inside the United States

If you are currently in the United States and are one of the specified categories of relatives of a permanent resident, you may be able to become a permanent resident in two steps.

Step One – Your permanent resident relative must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for you and it must be approved. You must wait for your priority date in your immigrant visa category to become current.  Your priority date is the date when the Form I-130 is properly filed (with correct fee and signature) on your behalf by your U.S. permanent resident relative.  

Step Two – Once the priority date in your visa category is current, you may file for adjustment of status with Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Adjustment of status is the process you go through to become a permanent resident. 

Get a Green Card While Outside the United States

If you are currently outside the United States and are one of the specified eligible categories of relatives of a permanent resident, you can become a permanent resident through consular processing. Consular processing is when the USCIS works with the U.S. Department of State to issue a visa on an approved Form I-130 petition when a visa is available. In this process the Department of State will issue you a visa. If approved, you may then travel on the visa and will officially become a permanent resident when admitted at a U.S. port of entry. 


Things to keep in mind:

  • Turning 21 years of age. If you are an unmarried child of a permanent resident, turning 21 years of age may delay the process of becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa.  You will no longer qualify as an “Unmarried Child of a Lawful Permanent Resident” (F2A) and will convert to the category of an “Unmarried Son or Daughter of a Lawful Permanent Resident (F2B).” This change in categories may result in a significant delay in your immigrant visa becoming available. 
  • The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA). In certain cases, the CSPA may allow you to retain the classification of “child” even if you have reached age 21. To determine if the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) applies to you, please contact our office.
  • Getting Married. If you are the unmarried son or daughter of a permanent resident, and you get married prior to becoming a permanent resident, you no longer qualify for permanent residence through your permanent resident family member. There is no visa category for a married child of a permanent resident. Note: You must notify USCIS of any change in your marital status after Form I-130 has been filed for you and prior to becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa.
  • Permanent Resident Relative Becomes a U.S. citizen.  If the permanent resident relative that petitioned for you becomes a U.S. Citizen, your preference category would change and a visa may be available sooner.  This is because you would now be getting a green card as a relative of a U.S. citizen. 

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Unmarried Adult Children of U.S. Permanent Residents

This section discusses the steps required to get a green card for relatives of a permanent resident (in a Family 2nd Preference category). 

Get a Green Card While Inside the United States

If you are currently in the United States and are one of the specified categories of relatives of a permanent resident, you may be able to become a permanent resident in two steps.

Step One – Your permanent resident relative must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for you and it must be approved. You must wait for your priority date in your immigrant visa category to become current.  Your priority date is the date when the Form I-130 is properly filed (with correct fee and signature) on your behalf by your U.S. permanent resident relative.  

Step Two – Once the priority date in your visa category is current, you may file for adjustment of status with Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Adjustment of status is the process you go through to become a permanent resident. 

Get a Green Card While Outside the United States

If you are currently outside the United States and are one of the specified eligible categories of relatives of a permanent resident, you can become a permanent resident through consular processing. Consular processing is when the USCIS works with the U.S. Department of State to issue a visa on an approved Form I-130 petition when a visa is available. In this process the Department of State will issue you a visa. If approved, you may then travel on the visa and will officially become a permanent resident when admitted at a U.S. port of entry. 


Things to keep in mind:

  • Turning 21 years of age. If you are an unmarried child of a permanent resident, turning 21 years of age may delay the process of becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa.  You will no longer qualify as an “Unmarried Child of a Lawful Permanent Resident” (F2A) and will convert to the category of an “Unmarried Son or Daughter of a Lawful Permanent Resident (F2B).” This change in categories may result in a significant delay in your immigrant visa becoming available. 
  • The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA). In certain cases, the CSPA may allow you to retain the classification of “child” even if you have reached age 21. To determine if the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) applies to you, please contact our office.
  • Getting Married. If you are the unmarried son or daughter of a permanent resident, and you get married prior to becoming a permanent resident, you no longer qualify for permanent residence through your permanent resident family member. There is no visa category for a married child of a permanent resident. Note: You must notify USCIS of any change in your marital status after Form I-130 has been filed for you and prior to becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa.
  • Permanent Resident Relative Becomes a U.S. citizen.  If the permanent resident relative that petitioned for you becomes a U.S. Citizen, your preference category would change and a visa may be available sooner.  This is because you would now be getting a green card as a relative of a U.S. citizen. 

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Green Card Through Special Categories of Family 

You may be able to become a permanent resident (get a green card) through a special family situation. These adjustment of status programs are limited to individuals who meet particular qualifications and/or apply during certain time frames.

For more information on the following categories of family members, see below or contact our office:

  • Battered Spouse or Child (VAWA)
  • K Nonimmigrant (includes fiancé(e))
  • Person Born to a Foreign Diplomat in the United States
  • V Nonimmigrant
  • Widow(er) of a U.S. Citizen

For information on other special categories that may lead to permanent residence, please contact our office.

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Battered Child or Spouse of U.S. Citizen

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 allows the spouse, child or parent who is battered or subjected to extreme cruelty to file a self-petition independently of the abusive U.S. citizen or green card holding spouse or parent. The petition must include evidence of battery/extreme cruelty, which includes but is not limited to reports and affidavits regarding the abuse, protective orders issued against the abuser, consultations with a psychologist or other mental health professional, and photographic evidence showing visible injuries. Applicants whose VAWA petition receive legal permanent resident status, and may apply for naturalization within three years. Spouses, parents or children of the VAWA recipient may also apply for and receive derivative benefits.

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K Visa for Fiance(e)

The K-1 fiancee visa is a nonimmigrant visa which allows the fiance or fiancée of a U.S. citizen to enter into the U.S. and get married to the U.S. citizen.

As a fiance or fiancee of a U.S. citizen you are eligible if you are:

  • Legally eligible to marry under the law of both the nations
  • Planning to getting married within 90 days of your entering the U.S.
  • Entering the U.S. solely for the purpose of marriage

On K-1 visa, you may not:

  • Change to any other nonimmigrant status while you are in the U.S.
  • Use K-1 visa to enter the U.S. if you have been temporarily barred from entering into the U.S. for previous violation of U.S. immigration law
  • A K-1 visa is issued with a validity of 180 days. You have to enter the U.S. before the expiry date shown on your K-1 visa
  • After your arrival in the U.S., you have 90 days to get married or you must return to your home country. There is no legal way to extend the 90 day limit
  • Once the marriage has taken place in the U.S., you must apply to adjust to residency status. Note that you would first generally obtain a two-year conditional residency and would have to file additional paperwork later for the conditions to be lifted

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To determine the best course of action in your individual case, please contact our office to schedule a free consultation.