Family Preference Categories
There are two major groups of family-based immigrants: immediate relative categories and family preference categories. When a U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitions a foreign family member, the immigrant falls into one of these two categories. The categories define the type of relationship that the immigrant has with the U.S. sponsor, and to a large extent, the priority that the immigrant will receive in obtaining a green card.
Family Preference Categories Available
What are the qualifying relationships?
The immediate relative categories are for an exclusive group of relationships with a U.S. citizen. However, the family preference categories include all other qualifying family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a lawful permanent resident. The family preference categories include:
Unmarried, adult sons and daughters (age 21 or over) of U.S. citizens
Spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) of permanent residents
Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents
Married sons and daughters (any age) of U.S. citizens
Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens
If you do not fit one of these categories, you may fit into the immediate relative categories. Immediate relative immigrant visas are available for the spouse, unmarried children, and parents of U.S. citizens. Grandparents, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins and in-laws cannot be directly petitioned.
Grounds of Inadmissibility
Can a green card be denied?
To be admitted into the United States as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), a foreign national must meet several requirements in the family-based immigration system. In addition to having an eligible relationship with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (as described above), the applicant must not be inadmissible under Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). INA 212 lists several grounds of inadmissibility that can prevent foreign nationals from gaining permission to enter or remain in the U.S. There are numerous grounds of inadmissibility. Some of the most commonly applied grounds of inadmissibility include:
- Current or past employment in the United States without authorization;
- Unlawful presence in the United States for certain periods of time; or
- Violating the terms of a current or past nonimmigrant status.
What are the requirements for a green card?
The family-based immigration process generally begins with the U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. The I-130 petition establishes a qualifying relationship and is a request for a visa number.
To immigrate through the family preference categories, there are several requirements:
Note: U.S. citizens may also sponsor a foreign fiancé to come to the United States for the purpose of marriage. The U.S. citizen starts this process by filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé. The foreign fiancé eventually enters the U.S. with a non-immigrant K-1 visa.
The I-130 petition is just the beginning of the process. The intending immigrant must apply for a green card via consular processing or adjustment of status.
Green Card Application Process
How does the preference category apply for a green card?
Once USCIS approves the I-130 petition and a visa number is available, the foreign family member may apply for a green card. There are two basic paths to apply for the green card: consular processing and adjustment of status. Consular processing is a means for applying for an immigrant visa (green card) through the U.S. embassy or consulate in a country outside the United States. Consular processing is the most common path to obtain a green card. In some cases, an immigrant that is already inside the United States in a nonimmigrant status (e.g. F-1 student, B-2 visitor, H-1B worker, etc.) may be able to adjust status to permanent resident. Adjustment of status is the process of changing immigration status to permanent residence (green card holder). Adjustment of status is only available to a small group of applicants. Applicants eligible for adjustment status can sometimes file Form I-130 concurrently with the adjustment application (Form I-485).
Using the Visa Bulletin
When will I know when the petition is current?
There is a limited number of family preference immigrant visas (green cards) available each year. Typically, this means most people have to wait for an immigrant visa. The process is first-in, first-out. For example, the first Form I-130 filed will be the petition to provide an immigrant visa number. Therefore, the petitioner should file Form I-130 as soon as possible.
The U.S. Department of State will use the I-130 petition filing date as the applicant's priority date. The State Department uses a visa bulletin to communicate when an intending immigrant's priority date is reached. To determine your wait, you’ll need to monitor the visa bulletin.
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
Use Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) to start the immigration process for a family member. Each year, USCIS rejects or denies thousands of I-130 petitions. Rejections and denials delay the process and can cost you money. Therefore, it's important to get it right.
* Data based on USCIS Forms Data and Lockbox Rejection Data.
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How do I prepare Form I-130?
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