Immediate Relative Categories
In U.S. immigration, there are 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.
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.
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).
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.
To immigrate through the immediate relative category, there are several requirements:
To qualify as an immediate relative, your family member must be a spouse, unmarried child (under 21 years of age), or parent. (To petition a parent, the U.S. petitioner must 21 years of age or older.)
The qualifying relationship must be documented with evidence. When filing Form I-130, you’ll send birth records (i.e. official birth certificate) to establish biological relationships or a marriage certificate to establish a marital relationship. Spouses must also provide proof that the marriage is bona fide (not entered into primarily for purposes of getting a green card).
If you’re using CitizenPath to prepare your adjustment of status packet, we’ll guide you through all of the documents that you’ll need to submit with your application. Get started now >>
- Consular processing is the process of obtaining an immigrant visa (green card) from outside the United States at a U.S. embassy or consulate. If the family member is physically outside the United States, this is the only available option. Learn more about consular processing >>
- Adjustment of status is the process that a non-immigrant visitor (e.g. student, tourist, etc.) uses to change status to a permanent resident from inside the United States. In other words, if the immediate relative is already in the U.S. with a temporary visa, he or she may stay by “adjusting status.” Learn more about adjustment of status >>
There are additional requirements for adjustment of status applicants. For example, the immediate relative must have lawful entry into the United States.
If the immigrant family member is not able to support himself or herself financially, the U.S. citizen promises to provide financial support. To do this, the U.S. citizen must generally have an income that is at least 125% of the Federal poverty level. If you the sponsor’s income does not meet the requirement, additional sponsors or a joint sponsor can be used.
The immediate relative will be required to have a medical examination conducted by a USCIS designated physician. The examination is required to establish that an applicant is not a public health risk such as a carrier of a disease that presents a public health risk, or having a dangerous physical or mental disorder.
- Immigration Violations
The intending immigrant’s immigration history will be reviewed. The application will likely be denied if the intending immigrant has overstayed a visa by six months or more, or if you he/she has ever entered the country unlawfully. The government will also seek to determine if a visa (if applicable) has ever been misused.
- Criminal Record
The intending immigrant will certainly run into problems if he or she has committed certain crimes, like aggravated felonies, drug crimes, or acts of terrorism.
If there’s a reason that any of the above requirements could be an issue, we recommend that you contact an experienced immigration attorney before filing any USCIS form. In some cases and in certain situations, if you are found inadmissible to the United States you may be eligible to file a waiver on Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility.