Permanent Immigration via Family

Family-Based Green Cards

One of the most common ways to obtain permanent residence (green card) is by the petition of a family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or through certain family-related categories. The permanent residence system for family members is governed by Congressionally mandated quotas, and can involve long backlogs. The Department of State manages a monthly Visa Bulletin, available at, which tracks the availability of immigrant visas for family petitioners.

A green card may be obtained as an “immediate relative” or as a “family member in a preference” category if a U.S. citizen relative files a “Petition for Alien Relative” for their non-citizen family member.

Immigrant visas are always available for “Immediate Relatives,” provided the statutory and administrative requirements are met. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizen are:

The child (unmarried and under 21 years old) of a U.S. citizen

The spouse (husband or wife) of a U.S. citizen

The parent of a U.S. citizen (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years or older)

Other family relationships have longer waits for immigrant visas, as laid out in the monthly Visa Bulletin. Family member of U.S. citizens in a preference category include:

(1st Preference)An unmarried son or daughter (21 years or older) of a U.S. citizen

(3rd Preference) A married son or daughter (any age) of a U.S. citizen

(4th Preference) A sibling (brother or sister) of a U.S. citizen

A green card may also be obtained where a Permanent Resident (Green Card holder) files a “Petition for Alien Relative” if the qualifying relationship is:

(2nd Preference) The spouse of a permanent resident

(2nd Preference) The child (unmarried and under 21 years old) of permanent resident

(2nd Preference) The unmarried son or daughter (21 years or older) of a permanent resident

The Immigration and Nationality Act also allows for permanent residence through the following special categories:

Battered child or spouse of a U.S. citizen

Entered the United States with a K visa as the fiancé(e) or spouse of a U.S. citizen or an accompanying child

V nonimmigrant status holders

Widow(er) of a U.S. citizen

Born to a foreign diplomat in the United States

If a qualifying family relationship exists for immigration purposes, two distinct routes can be taken to obtaining permanent residence. Family members already present in the United States may qualify for “adjustment of status” to permanent residence, which allows for completing the application process from within the United States. Family relatives outside the United States, and those not eligible to adjust within the U.S., may be eligible to process for an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad which has jurisdiction over the beneficiary’s foreign place of residence.

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