Permanent Residency – Family Based Immigration
The most common way by which a person can become a lawful permanent resident of the United States is through a family relationship. The filing of a visa petition by a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident relative (the Petitioner) is the first step in this process. Depending upon the relationship of the family member who is being sponsored (the Beneficiary), he or she will qualify either as an "immediate relative" or in a "preference" category. The classification is very important in determining how long the process will take.
Immediate Relatives include:
• Spouse of United States Citizens (and in limited circumstances, a widow or widower of a United States Citizen)
• Unmarried children under 21 years of age (step-children and adopted children may often qualify)
• Parents of United States Citizens
• 1st » Unmarried sons and daughters (21 or older) of U.S. Citizens
• 2nd » [2A] Spouses and children (under 21) of a Lawful Permanent Resident
» [2B] Unmarried sons and daughters (21 or older) of a Lawful Permanent Resident
• 3rd » Married sons and daughters (21 or older) of a U.S. Citizen
• 4th » Brothers and sisters of a U.S. Citizen
[Notice that a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) cannot petition for his or her parents or married son or daughter]
Visas are available for immediate relatives, and thus there is no wait for a visa to become current. Individuals whom are not immediate relatives will have to wait for their visa to become “Current” which is based on the State Department’s monthly visa bulletin. This Visa Bulletin keeps track of visa availability by preference category and country. The general rule is that a person's country of visa chargeability is their country of birth, however a different country may be used in some circumstances.
How to Begin the Process
The First step in applying for an eligible relative is to apply for the I-130 Immediate Relative Petition. The Petitioner must show proof of U.S. Citizenship or Lawful Permanent Resident status and evidence documenting the qualifying relationship.
Please note that once the I-130 is approved, this does not always mean the visa is available. For some categories, the I-130 Approval may come years before the visa is available. However, for an immediate relative, once the Visa is available the next step in the process begins.
The Next Step of the I-130 depends on whether the Beneficiary resides in the United States or in another country. If the Beneficiary inside the United States then and I-485 Application may be filed along with other relevant documentation and forms. While the I-485 is Pending, the Applicant may qualify for Employment Authorization and a Travel Document, but this is determined on a case by case basis. Further, the Petitioner and Beneficiary should be wary of any application Waivers that might be needed or to show they are 245I qualified.
National Visa Center Processing
If the Beneficiary resides outside the United States, then the National Visa Center will contact the Petitioner. The first contact by the National Visa Center is in the form of a Fee Bill for the Affidavit of Support and the Immigrant Visa. The next step is the processing of additional forms and documentation. Following the completion of documentation at the National Visa Center, the case will be forwarded to the Embassy in which the Beneficiary is located for final processing.
Marriage Based Green Card Applications
Marriages less than two years old at the time of interview:
If the family petition is based on a marriage of less than two years at the time of the Adjustment interview, the Beneficiary spouse will be granted Conditional Permanent Resident status for two years. The Beneficiary must file a petition to remove the conditions prior to the two-year anniversary of being granted the conditional status.