immediate family category spouse and child

Immediate Relative Categories

Immediate Relative Categories

The U.S. immigration system has two major categories of family-based immigrants: immediate relatives and family preference. If a U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitions a foreign family member, the immigrant will fall 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. The immediate relative categories are the most desirable.

immediate relative categories for spouse and child

Advantage for Immediate Relative Categories

The immediate relative category has special immigration priority. The immigrants in this category do not have to wait in line for a visa number to become available for them to immigrate because there are an unlimited number of visas available to immediate relatives. Certain bars to adjustment do not apply to the IR category. This is a significant benefit for an intending immigrant who overstays a visa or works in the U.S. without authorization.

On the other hand, family preference categories do have a wait associated with them. There is a limited number of visas for the preference categories. Therefore, waits can last from six months to as much as 20 years.

Immediate Relative Categories Available

There are only a few immediate relative categories available. They are reserved for the spouse, unmarried children and parents of U.S. citizens. The specific categories are:

  • Spouse of a U.S. citizen

  • Unmarried child (under 21 years of age) of a U.S. citizen

  • Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen

  • Orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen

  • Parent of a U.S. citizen (who is at least 21 years old)

If you do not fit one of these categories, you may fit into the family preference categories.

Establishing an Immediate Relative Relationship

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 an eligible relationship and is a request for a visa number.

There is an exception. U.S. citizens can 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. If approved, the foreign fiancé receives a non-immigrant fiancé visa (K-1).

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.

Consular Processing

Consular processing is the process of obtaining an immigrant visa (green card) from outside the United States at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

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Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of status is the process that a nonimmigrant visitor (student, tourist, etc.) uses to change status to a permanent resident from inside the U.S.

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Immediate Relative Categories Not in the Visa Bulletin

You may have heard of the visa bulletin. It’s a monthly list of priority dates closely watched by many individuals waiting to immigrate to the United States. Immediate relatives do not need to worry about the visa bulletin. As mentioned previously, there is an unlimited number of visas available to immediate relatives. So there is no “waiting in line” or monitoring the visa bulletin.

Inapplicability of Bars to Adjustment

Some or all of the adjustment bars (INA 245 (c)) do not apply to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Generally, foreign nationals must be in a lawful status in order to adjust status to permanent resident. In other words, a visa overstay can result in a denial. Likewise, unauthorized employment in the U.S. is a bar to adjustment. If the foreign national has ever engaged in unauthorized employment, whether before or after filing an adjustment application, it can result in a denial.

There is an exception for immediate relatives. Applicants in the IR category may successfully apply for a green card with these violations. An adjustment applicant applying as an immediate relative may be eligible to file Form I-485 (adjustment of status application) even if he or she:

  • Is now employed or has ever been employed in the United States without authorization;
  • Is not in lawful immigration status on the date he or she files the adjustment application;
  • Has ever failed to continuously maintain a lawful status since entry into the United States;
  • Has ever violated the terms of his or her nonimmigrant status.

To immigrate through the immediate relative category, there are several requirements:

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