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Under U.S. immigration law, either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) have the right to let certain foreign-born family members immigrate to the United States.  This however, is not instant, a length of time is needed.

A lawful permanent resident as defined for this purpose, is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege to work and live permanently in the United States. Foreign nationals who are relatives of a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. may be petitioned and sponsored for a Green Card, with the former proving that he/she has enough income or assets to support the foreign national relative, or the intending immigrant/s, as they immigrate to the United States.

You will need to start the process by proving your family relationship. If you are not “immediate relatives,” your family members will have to wait until a visa (green card) is available in their category which will take months or years.

Important Facts about Green Cards for U.S. Family Relationships:

  • Green cards under this category are issued without much consideration on the relative’s educational background or work experience as a part of their eligibility.
  • The primary applicant’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may also be eligible for green cards, as derivative accompanying relative.
  • Green cards may be taken away as one misuses it. Reasons for the revocation of Green Cards include committing a crime, making a primary home outside the U.S., or neglect to inform the immigration authorities of the change in the green card holder’s address.
  • Successfully keeping the green card for five years, or three years if one is married to and still living with a U.S. citizen at that time, grants the green card holder the privilege to apply for a U.S. citizenship.

There are two groups of family primarily based migrant visa categories:

Immediate Relative Immigrant

These visa types are based on a close family relationship with a United States (U.S.) citizen described as an Immediate Relative. The number of immigrants in these categories is not limited each fiscal year.

Immediate relative visa types include:

  • Husband or Wife 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 U.S. by a U.S. citizen; and
  • Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old.

For immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, visas are always available. This means that the family member need not wait in life for a Visa.

Important To Note:

  • In some cases, the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) may allow a relative to retain the classification of a “child” even as a relative reach the age of 21. Generally, the age is “frozen” as of the date the U.S. citizen parents files the Form I-130 for the child.
  • Unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen who gets married prior to becoming a permanent resident no longer qualifies as an “Unmarried Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen” and will convert to the category of “Married Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen”. This change in category may result in a delay in the immigrant visa.

Family Preference Immigrant Visas

These visa types are for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). There are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants, shown at the end of each category.

The family preference categories are:

  • Family First Preference: Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any;
  • Family Second Preference: Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs. At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters; Family
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children;
  • Family Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age.

Note: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.

As you will see on the pages contained on this website, the application process for family-based immigration is summarized as follows.  The family member that is qualified to be a sponsor will need to take multi-step application process.

  1. First, the U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident files visa petition.


The petition for a family member to receive a green card begins with the filing of the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

This is to prove your interest in helping your immediate family or preference relative to immigrate.Next, if filing through one of the preference categories, you will be on a waiting list and given what is known as a priority date.

Please note that the priority date is for the preference categories only, the four categories where only limited numbers of immigrant visas are given out each year. That applies to almost everyone except the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and certain highly qualified workers.

  1. Second, if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) makes a favorable decision on the visa petition, it will forward the immigrant’s case file to the National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing.


At this time the immigrant should submit an application for permanent residence. This can be typically done by applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate outside the United States. However, if your relative is already in the United States, he or she may apply to adjust status to become a green card holder after a visa number becomes available using Form I-485.

Consular Processing

A relative of the U.S. citizen who qualifies under the specified categories may become a permanent resident through consular processing.

The Immigration and Nationality Act offers an alternative path to obtaining a green card for the relatives of a U.S. citizen, through consular processing. This is when the beneficiary of a petition for green card who lives outside the U.S. applies for a visa at the U.S. Department of State consulate abroad for an immigrant visa.

To find out more details about the family-based immigration process, please consult the other pages on this site dealing with immediate relatives and preference categories.

You Need an Immigration Lawyer for Your Family-Based Visa

If you are a U.S. Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Citizen of the U.S. looking to sponsor your relatives for a Visa, you need the assistance of an Immigration Lawyer.

While most people think that having a lawyer to help you through with your Visa application is an expensive option; having to go through the process yourself means incurring in more time and even more unnecessary expenses on your end– which you could skip altogether with a lawyer working with you on your Visa Application.

At The Gambacorta Law Office, we offer full immigration service dedicated to helping clients from all walks of life obtain their Visa to the U.S. Our goal is to offer the best and individualized Visa application services for our clients, providing the best immigration solutions available.

Talk to us to know more about how we can help you with your Visa petition and application today!