Family-Based Immigration Options
The U.S. immigration system allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) to sponsor certain family members for immigrant visas (green cards). There are two main categories of family-based immigration:

A. Immediate Relatives

  • Includes spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents of U.S. citizens
  • There is no numerical limit on the number of visas available in this category

B. Family Preference Categories

  • Includes more distant family relationships such as adult children, siblings, and spouses/children of permanent residents
  • These categories have an annual numerical limit on the number of visas available
  • This often leads to long wait times, sometimes several years, before a visa becomes available

The Immigration Process

  1. The U.S. citizen or permanent resident files Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) to establish the qualifying family relationship.
  2. Once the I-130 is approved, the family member applies for an immigrant visa either through consular processing at a U.S. embassy/consulate or adjustment of status if already in the U.S.
  3. For family preference categories, applicants must wait until a visa number is available based on their priority date before they can complete the final visa application.

Key Differences
Immediate relatives can immigrate without numerical limits, while family preference categories have annual caps
U.S. citizens can sponsor a wider range of family members compared to permanent residents
The immigration process and wait times vary based on the specific family relationship