Understanding Family-Based Immigration

The United States grants some immigrants permanent resident status based on their relationships with US lawful permanent residents or US citizens. In these instances, the lawful resident or the citizen must sponsor and petition for their relatives. Several family-based green card categories exist, as explained below.

Immediate Relative (IR) Immigrant Green Cards

These green cards are based on close family relationships, such as being a spouse or dependent child of a US citizen. There is no limit on the number of immigrants allowed into the US each fiscal year within these categories:

  • IR-1 – Spouse of a US Citizen
  • IR-2 – Unmarried Children Under 21 of a US Citizen
  • IR-3 – Orphan Adopted by a US Citizen Abroad
  • IR-4 – Orphan to be Adopted in the US by a US Citizen
  • IR-5 – Parent of a US Citizen at Least 21 Years Old

Categories for Family Preferences (FP) Green Cards

Only a limited number of immigrants are allowed into the US each year within these categories:

  • F1 – First Family Preference – Unmarried daughters and sons of US citizens, as well as their minor children
  • F2 – Second Family Preference – Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters who are 21 or older of lawful permanent residents
  • F3 – Third Family Preference – Married sons and daughters of US citizens at least 21 years old, as well as their spouses and minor children
  • F4 – Fourth Family Preference – Sisters and brothers of US citizens, along with their minor children and spouses, as long as the US citizen is at least 21 years old

In some cases, family members of permanent residents and US citizens in the US legally with another status qualify for lawful permanent resident status without needing to return to their home country. They must fill out Form I-485.

If family members are outside of the United States, or if they are in the US and do not qualify for a direct status adjustment, consular processing is necessary. This occurs at a US consulate or US embassy located in their home country.

Permanent Residence Application Procedure for Relatives

Lawful permanent residents or US citizens must complete Form I-130 through the USCIS, which is the Petition for Alien Relatives. The form shows the individual’s relationship with the applicant. A separate form is required for each of the relatives sponsored.

A US citizen at least 21 years old can petition for a spouse, children, parents, and siblings. Lawful permanent residents can only petition for their spouse and any unmarried children.

When filing Form I-130, the filer must provide proof of their US citizenship, as well as proof of their relationship to the relative they want to sponsor. Once the form is filled out, this relative’s paperwork goes into a queue with others from the same region and the same family relationship. When they reach the top of the queue, they can then apply for their visas.

Additionally, a sponsor must show that they can support the relatives financially once they are in the US. Sponsors must file Form I-864 (an affidavit of support) during the immigration process. If the sponsor does not meet the qualifications, other individuals must be willing to support the applicant.