Family-Based Immigrant Visas
A U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States can petition for certain family members to immigrate to the United States or to remain in the United States permanently. People often refer to this as a “green card” sponsorship. Only certain family relationships are recognized by the US immigration system as eligible for green card sponsorship. Such family-based immigrant petitions are divided into two groups: “immediate relatives” cases and “preference” cases. An adult US citizen (21 and older) can file a petition to sponsor a spouse, parent, and unmarried children under 21 years of age. These petitions are for “immediate relatives.” The United States does not place any limit on the number of immediate relative cases that can be filed or granted each year. Thus, there is no waiting list to be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, just whatever time it takes for the US government to process the application.
The other family-based immigration category is for “preference” cases. Preference cases are subject to a quota on the number of people who can immigrate to the United States each year. The most distant family relationship recognized in the family-based preference system is that of siblings of a United States citizen. Other family relationships that qualify as preference cases are the unmarried adult son or daughter or a US citizen, the spouse of a legal permanent resident, unmarried children of permanent residents, and married sons and daughters of US citizens. Congress places limits on the percentage of people who can immigrate each fiscal year from certain countries. These limits create waiting lists, especially for people born in countries with a higher number of people who are waiting to immigrate to the United States to join their family here. Because there is such a high demand for immigrant visas in the preference categories, the wait for an immigrant visa based on family relationships can be many, many years. For people born in countries with a very high demand, including the Philippines and Mexico, the wait for an immigrant visa based on family relationships can be in excess of twenty years.