The other most widely used method to obtain lawful permanent residence (LPR) in the U.S. is through family sponsorship, which is categorized based on the relationship of the foreign national to the petitioning U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. These visas lead to a green card and ultimately to citizenship.
Parents, spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) of United States citizens (USCs) may obtain lawful permanent resident status through the filing of a petition by their USC relative. These “immediate relatives” are not subject to automatic waiting periods. Depending on whether they are inside or outside the U.S., immediate relatives can obtain permanent residence in two different ways:
Adjustment of Status
Immediate relative(s) are already inside the U.S under a non-immigrant status. The U.S. citizen will need to file an immigration petition and simultaneously the foreign national spouse will need to adjust his/her status to permanent resident. This is a complicated process and requires careful attention to detail.
If the immediate relative is outside the U.S. then the U.S. citizen needs to file an immigration petition and request that USCIS notify a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where his/her immediate relative lives. The consular office will schedule the applicant for an interview. The consular office will complete processing of the applicant’s case and decide if the beneficiary is eligible for an immigrant visa. If you successfully complete consular processing you will be able to live and work in the U.S. and within 30 days of your arrival you can expect to receive the green card.
Preference categories apply to other relatives of USCs and LPRs (who are not immediate relatives) and are subject to annual numerical limits. A visa becomes available to a preference category based on the priority date (the date the Petition for Alien Relative was filed). The family-based preferences are grouped as follows:
- 1st Preference: Unmarried adult children (over age 21) of USCs
- 2nd Preference (2A): Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of LPRs
- 2nd Preference (2B): Unmarried adult children (over age 21) of LPRs
- 3rd Preference: Married children (any age) of USCs
- 4th Preference: Siblings of adult USCs
For current wait times, see the “Visa Bulletin” on the U.S. Department of State website.
K-1/K-2 – Fiancé or Spouse Visa
Allows a U.S. citizen wishing to bring a foreign national fiancé living abroad to the United States to marry. Once the U.S. Embassy or Consulate issues the visa to the foreign national through consular processing, the K-1 visa allows the fiancé to enter the U.S. with the intent to marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days of admission. The foreign national fiancé will then apply for adjustment of status to a permanent resident. The K-1 Fiancé visa generally takes less time to process than the Alien-Spouse visa (see below).
If the fiancé has a child (under 21 and unmarried), a K-2 nonimmigrant visa may be available to him or her.
K-3/K-4 – Nonimmigrant Spouse Visa
Allows the alien spouse of a U.S. citizen and his or her minor children to be admitted to the United States as nonimmigrants while they are awaiting the adjudication of the petition for alien relative. The visa also allows them to obtain employment authorization and to travel and return to the U.S. even while they are waiting for your permanent resident status.