The most common path to getting a Green Card (and thus becoming a lawful permanent resident) is family-based immigration. Sometimes the person who wants to immigrate is outside the U.S. and wants to come in through consular processing (i.e. getting an immigrant visa); other times the person is already in the U.S. and needs an adjustment of status. Although the paperwork in each scenario is different, they both require the prospective immigrant to be sponsored by a family member who resides in the U.S. There are two major types of family-based immigration: (1) through immediate relatives and (2) through the family preference system.
The immediate relative path is easier. There is an unlimited number of entries under this category every year, which means that the waiting period for processing is short (usually 6 to 12 months). The catch is that you can only get a Green Card this way if you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. To be an immediate relative, you usually must be:
(1) the spouse of a U.S. citizen;
(2) the unmarried child, under the age of 21, of a U.S. citizen; or
(3) the parent of a U.S. citizen (but only if the U.S. citizen is over the age of 21).
Other categories include widows, adopted children, and stepchildren/stepparents of U.S. citizens, under certain circumstances.
If the person who wants to immigrate is not the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, the family preference category applies. Family preference applications are divided into four degrees of preference:
(1) First Preference: unmarried adult child (over the age of 21) of a U.S. citizen
(2) Second Preference: spouse, minor unmarried child (under 21), and unmarried adult child of a lawful permanent resident
(3) Third Preference: married child (of any age) of a U.S. citizen
(4) Fourth Preference: brother/sister of a U.S. citizen, and any spouse and children, if U.S. citizen is over the age of 21.
The problem is that family preference immigration is subject to a quota, meaning there is a maximum number of persons who may be granted immigration status under the family preference categories any given year. As a result, immigration based on these categories can take years, or even decades! And it is impossible, for example, for a U.S. citizen to sponsor relatively close relatives such as a grandparent, uncle/aunt, nephew/niece, cousin, or in-laws for a family-based Green Card. Also, a legal permanent resident may not sponsor any brothers or sisters—at least not on the basis of that familial relationship.
The U.S. government releases a bulletin every month containing the estimated waiting times for immigrants based on family preference. If you or someone you know is curious about family-based immigration, please call or e-mail us to schedule a free and confidential half-hour consultation.