Over half a million persons obtain lawful permanent residency in the United States through sponsorship by a relative. The closer the familial relationship, the more successful your application is likely to be and the closer the relationship, the more U.S. immigration rights are given. Immediate relatives may immigrate in unlimited numbers and are not controlled by quotas or yearly limits. Immediate relatives include spouses of U.S. citizens—regardless of where the marriage took place—as well as widows and widowers of U.S. citizens.
Of course, the marriage must be legitimate and not entered into for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card. Unmarried children of a U.S. citizen who are under the age of 21 or parents of a U.S. citizen if that citizen is over the age of 21 are also eligible. If a marriage which created a parent-child relationship among stepparents or stepchildren took place prior to the child’s 18th birthday, then this is also considered a primary family relationship.
Other Factors in Obtaining a Green Card for First Preference Relatives - If the sponsoring family member is a U.S. citizen or green card holder, the likelihood of success is greatly increased. In fact, U.S. citizens are able to bring more distant relatives to the U.S.—such as their parents, brothers or sisters—than a green card holder, and immigration is likely to happen much more quickly. Work experience or educational background is not a factor in green card eligibility among family members, and the primary applicant’s unmarried children under the age of 21 may also be eligible for green cards.
When a Green Card Can be Taken Away - Remember that a green card can be taken away should it be considered to be misused in any way. As an example, if you commit a crime in the United States, your green card could be in jeopardy. If you make your primary home outside the U.S. or you don’t notify immigration authorities of a change of address, you could also suffer removal proceedings. Once a green card is successfully held for a period of five years—or three years should you have married a U.S. citizen and reside in the U.S.—then citizenship can be applied for.
Third and Fourth Preference Relatives - Those who are considered preference relatives may also apply for a green card however the speed with which the application is processed is likely to be much slower. Depending on the current demand preference relative applicants may have to wait years—or in some cases, decades—before a green card is conveyed. Married children are considered family third preference and sisters and brothers of the U.S. citizen are considered family fourth preference so long as the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years old.
Process for Obtaining a Green Card through a Family Member - In order for a family member to obtain a green card through their U.S. citizen sponsor, Petition for Alien Relative must be filed by the sponsor, and it must be approved. Then, priority date is set - the priority date is essentially your “place in line” for getting your green card and is based on birth country and preference category. A current priority date means no waiting will be involved and that there is a visa number available. Once the priority date is current, an Adjustment of Status is filed. The Immigration and Nationality Act permits changes to an individual’s immigration status from non-immigrant to immigrant providing the person was inspected or admitted into the U.S. and otherwise meets all requirements for a green card.
Other Factors to Consider - In some cases classification as a “child” even though the person is 21 or older is possible; the date a U.S. citizen parent petitions for the child their age is “frozen.” This is known as the Child Status Protection Act and was enacted as a means of keeping immigrant families intact despite wait times which can range from years to decades. Prior to the passage of CSPA, a child turning 21 was “aged out” and could no longer immigrate with his or her parents. CSPA creates a formula which subtracts the number of years a visa is pending from the child’s age.
The unmarried son or daughter of a United States citizen who marries prior to obtaining permanent residency will convert to the category of “Married Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen,” which can result in substantial delays of the visa being granted. Any time the number of qualified applicants in any categories exceeds the number of available visas, the wait time will increase. Finally, the sponsor must be at least 18 years of age and be able to show proof of residence prior to filing a petition for family members.
Obtaining a green card through a family member can be filled with complexities; having an experienced immigration lawyer by your side can make the entire process much smoother, giving the applicant a much greater chance of success. The attorneys of Sullo & Sullo, LLP want to help you achieve your immigration goals. We are knowledgeable and have the necessary skills and background necessary to help you through this potentially difficult time.