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Family-sponsored Immigration

U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (green card holders) can sponsor family members for permanent resident status (the so-called "green card"). The conditions for sponsorship by U.S. citizens and permanent residents are significantly different and the delays for a green card issuance vary greatly as well.

There are also visas available to fiancé(e)s and spouses of U.S. citizens, which enable them to come to the U.S. before applying for permanent resident status. However, it is often easier for the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen to apply directly for an immigrant visa at the U.S. consulate in her/his country of residence after the U.S. citizens has obtained approval a petition in the U.S.

Sponsorship by U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

U.S. citizens and permanent residents can petition for green cards to be issued to certain relatives. This involves a two-step process;

  1. filing a petition for classification of the relative as a qualifying relative;
  2. the foreign relative filing for adjustment of status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the U.S., or for an immigrant visa from a consulate outside of the U.S.

All relatives of U.S. citizens, except immediate relatives, are subject to waiting periods (due to backlogs within the quota system imposed on each category of relative). The more distant the relationship, the longer the wait. All relatives of Permanent Residents, without exception, are subject to waiting periods.

After USCIS has approved the petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) where it will be assigned a case number. Once any applicable waiting time has passed and the case reaches the front of the processing queue, the NVC will begin processing the applicant’s case by contacting the petitioner and applicant with instructions for submitting the appropriate fees. After the fees have been paid, the NVC will request that the necessary immigrant visa documentation be submitted to the NVC.

Once the NVC determines that the file is complete, they schedule the applicant’s interview appointment at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant will be interviewed for an immigrant visa.

The categories of relatives and the respective waiting periods are as follows:

Immediate Relatives
The spouses, biological children, step-children who were under 18 at the time of marriage, and parents of U.S. citizens are considered the closest relatives, and as a result they are not subject to the green card quota system and the waiting period. Also, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens can still obtain the green card, even if they are in the U.S. and have overstayed their visa. However, if the immediate relative entered the U.S. illegally, then that person can obtain the green card only if they are eligible under the special law called INA 245(i).

1st Preference Category
Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens over 21 years of age. This category is allotted 23,400 green cards per year, and the waiting period is approximately 5 years.

2nd Preference Category
This category is allotted exclusively to relatives of legal permanent resident aliens (green card holders), and is divided into two subcategories.

Sub-Category 2A 
This category is allotted to the spouse and children of the spouse (regardless of whether the child is the biological or step-child of the LPR). The waiting period in this preference category has for a long time been approximately 4-5 years. However, in 2010, the waiting time has dropped down to 5-6 months.

Sub-Category 2B 
Unmarried sons and daughters, over the age of 21, of LPR's. The waiting period is currently approximately 5 years.

3rd Preference Category:
Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (regardless of age). This category is also allotted 23,400 green cards per year plus any remaining green cards from higher preference categories, and the waiting period is approximately 8 years.

4th Preference Category:
Brothers and Sisters of U.S. citizens. This category is also allotted 65,000 green cards per year plus any remaining green cards from higher preference categories, and the waiting period is approximately 8-10 years.

Other Considerations in the Green Card Process for Relatives of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

Generally, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioner first files a petition with USCIS for the foreign spouse to immigrate to the United States. In certain circumstances, service with the U.S. military, or U.S. government, or temporary assignment abroad by a private employer, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident living abroad can file the petition directly at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Please note, in the case of a U.S. citizen petitioning for his or her parents, that the U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years of age before petitioning for the parents. Otherwise, the minimum requirements for petitioning for a spouse or children/step-children is that the petitioner be at least 18 years of age and have his or her domicile in the U.S.

The U.S. citizen or permanent resident can petition for step-children only if he or she married the step-child's biological parent before the step-child reached the age of 18. Likewise, in order for a U.S. citizen to petition for a step-parent, the U.S. citizen must have been under 18 years of age when the step-parent married the U.S. citizen's biological parent.

K-3 Visa for Spouse of U.S. Citizen

When a U.S. citizen has married a foreign person, and wishes to bring the spouse to the U.S., a K-3 spouse visa can be applied for. The K-3 visa enables the foreign spouse to live and work in the U.S. while applying for the green card (either within the U.S. or at the U.S. consulate in the country where they were married).

  • The U.S. citizen spouse must file a petition with USCIS. In this petition, the spouses must prove that they are legally married.
  • Once the receipt notice for the petition (not the approval) is obtained, the U.S. citizen files a second petition with USCIS for the K-3 visa. Upon approval of this petition, the foreign spouse must submit a K-3 visa application to the U.S. consulate in his/her place of residence, or in the country where the marriage took place, if that country was not the United States.
  • The foreign spouse can then enter the U.S., and apply for the green card, either within the U.S. through USCIS, or through the U.S. consulate in the foreign spouse’s country of residence
For minor children of a K-3 spouse of a U.S. citizen, the K-4 visa is available.

Please feel free to call us at 941-362-7100 for information about the processing of a family-based cases and the approximate duration of the application and approval process.