Green Cards for Spouses and Immediate Relatives of Lawful Permanent Residents and U.S. Citizens

If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder) you can sponsor your spouse or immediate relatives for green cards. This is done via family-based immigrant visas. There are two different categories of family-based immigrant visas: Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas and Family Preference Immigrant Visas. We will briefly look at each visa class:

Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas

This is a class of visas issued to those who are considered to be close relatives of U.S. citizens, or in legal terms, an Immediate Relative (IR). Unlike other family-based immigrant visa classes, there is no limit to the number of IR visas issued each year. Here are the various sub-categories of the IR visa class:

  • IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. Citizen
  • IR-2: Unmarried Minor Child (Under 21 Years) of a U.S. Citizen
  • IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen
  • IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
  • IR-5: Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old

Bear in mind that the IR visa category is only applicable to close relatives of U.S. citizens only. If you are a green card holder, but not a citizen, or if you are a U.S citizen whose family member does not fall under the above sub-categories, then you have to file a petition for a Family Preference Immigrant Visa instead.

Family Preference Immigrant Visas

This class of visas is issued to family members of Lawful Permanent Residents and family members of U.S. Citizens who do not meet any of the IR visa sub-categories described above. There are a limited number of Family Preference visas issued each year. The family preference visa sub-categories are:

Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children.

Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of lawful permanent residents. 77% of the visas available for this category are allocated for spouses and minor children; the remaining 23% are for unmarried adult children.

Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children.

Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (the U.S. citizen must be over 21 years old), and their spouses and minor children.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins are ineligible to be sponsored under the IR or Family Preference visa categories.

Family Preference Immigrant Visas Wait Times

Every year the number of qualified applicants for a family preference visas is much higher than the number of visas available. This can result in lengthy waiting times for the qualifying applicants. Family Preference Visas are always issued in chronological order in accordance with the date the petitions were filed. Due to the huge backlog of applications, certain categories of family preference immigrant visas have waiting times of several years or more.

How Do I File a Petition for My Relative?

To start the process you must file a Petition for Alien Relative, or I-130 form, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

To make sure your petition is filed properly and your relatives are eligible for an IR or Family Preference visa, talk to a qualified and licensed immigration attorney.