As strong families are foundational to a strong society, U.S. immigration law prioritizes certain family members of citizens as eligible for permanent residency in the country. These relatives don’t have to wait in line for a visa number as visas that fall into this “immediate family” category are unlimited in their availability.
Immediate relatives who are eligible for a family-based green card include spouses and unmarried children who are under the age of 21. When an immediate relative child under age 21 marries, the “immediate relative” classification changed to a “third preference” category. The parents of U.S. citizens who are over the age of 21 are also eligible for the visas.
Even if a family member isn’t an immediate relative, a “family preference” category could be used. U.S. citizens can sponsor relatives through this category when family members are:
- Unmarried sons or daughters over the age of 21
- Married child(ren) of any age
- Brothers and sisters (if the U.S. citizen petitioner is over the age of 21)
Family-preference visas are limited. Visas in this category have a waiting period.
Immediate relatives use Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status when applying to become a permanent resident. At the same time, the U.S. citizen who’s acting as the relative sponsor files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.
Relatives who don’t apply for permanent residence when the Form I-130 is filed can still file Form I-485 at any time as long as the Form I-130 application is either pending or approved. Submit a copy of Form I-797, Notice of Action when filing Form I-485 separately from Form I-130.
Immediate relatives who are outside the United States can become a permanent resident through consular processing. With this, relatives receive a visa on an approved Form I-130 petition when one is available. Recipients can then travel on the visa. The recipient officially becomes a permanent resident when admitted at a U.S. port of entry.