It may not seem like it to the thousands of immigrant families who are separated from loved ones for years due to immigration laws, but family unity has traditionally been one of the primary goals of immigration policy in the U.S. It remains the most common way for individuals to apply for immigration benefits, though it often presents applicants with the most procedural roadblocks. A DC family immigration lawyer can work with you to help you understand the process and explain your options.
There are two categories of family-based immigrants: “immediate relatives” and relatives who fall under the “family preference system.” The main difference between these two is that immediate relatives do not have to wait in line in order to become eligible for visas.
More Information on Family Visas
- K-Visas for Fiancees of U.S. Citizens
- Family Immigration Visa Categories
- Family Immigration Frequently Asked Questions
- How An Attorney Can Help With a Family Visa
- Immigration for Same-Sex Spouses
- DC Family Based Consular Processing Immigration Lawyer
Immediate Relative Category
The category of immediate relatives requires that the petitioner (the person with legal immigration status in the U.S.) be a U.S. citizen. It is limited to the following relatives of the citizen applicant:
2. Parent (if and only if the applicant is aged 21 or older)
3. Unmarried children of the citizen (if they are 21 years of age or younger)
Immediate relatives enjoy many advantages over other categories of relatives. First, there is no limit to the number of immediate relatives the U.S. can accept as immigrants into the U.S. each year. Further, if they have entered the U.S. legally, immediate relatives are exempt from certain grounds of “inadmissibility,” such as accepting employment without authorization, overstaying their visas, or otherwise violating the immigration status on which they entered – all of which can present serious, often insurmountable, problems for other categories of immigrants. For more information on how to proceed seeking immigration for immediate relatives, contact a DC family immigration lawyer.
Family Preference Category
This category includes other family members who do not fall under the “immediate relative” classification. The main obstacle for non-immediate relatives is the quota, or “cap” imposed on the number of them that can be admitted each year. For many categories and countries, this number falls far below the actual number of eligible applicants, meaning many individuals must wait in lines that can exceed 18-20 years for a visa to become available. For this reason, it is important to consult with a DC family immigration lawyer soon to discuss the process early. For more information on the difference between these categories and the number of visas available for family members see the U.S. Department of State website on family-based immigration here.
The length of the wait and the ease of processing will depend on which country the family member is immigrating from, as well as the relationship they have with the petitioner. One benefit of the family preference category is that it allows Legal Permanent Residents, not only U.S. Citizens, to apply for their family members. Contact a DC family immigration lawyer
The family preference category is divided into four different groups:
Family Preference Category 1: Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. While younger children (under 21 and unmarried) fall under the “immediate relative” category, the unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who are older than 21 belong to Family Category 1. The wait time for this group varies by country, but is currently more than 20 years for applicants from Mexico, more than 14 years for those from the Philippines, and more than 7 years for those from mainland China and the rest of the world.
Family Preference Category 2: Spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of Legal Permanent Residents. This category is currently in the unusual situation of being “current.” This means there is no wait time for applicants, and the application process will likely be similar to that of the immediate relative categories.
Family Preference Category 3: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. For all countries except Mexico and the Philippines, the current wait time is nearly 10 years. For Mexico and the Philippines, the wait time exceeds 20 years.
Family Preference Category 4: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. This category traditionally has an extremely long wait time, and is currently about 14 years for all countries except Mexico and the Philippines. Mexico has a wait time of 13 years, and the Philippines’ exceeds 26.
Conditional Permanent Residents
Conditional permanent residence is granted to the spouse of a U.S. citizen who has been granted lawful permanent residence based on a marriage that occurred less than two years before the immigrant’s green card application was approved. It applies to many people, as most people prefer to petition for their spouses as soon as they are eligible – immediately after they are married. This provision was created so that the government can insure that the marriage was “bona fide” – or legitimate at the time it was entered, and did not exist solely for immigration purposes.
When an individual is granted conditional permanent residence, he or she enjoys all the rights and benefits of a Legal Permanent Resident. However, in order to remain in the U.S. in lawful status, he or she is allotted a strict 90-day window prior to the two-year anniversary of being granted conditional residence in which to apply to “remove conditions.” Removing conditions means they are asking the government to change their status from a “conditional” permanent resident to a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), whose status can potentially remain valid forever. Because of the government’s strict interpretation of the 90-day window, it is important that conditional residents are cognizant of the date they become eligible to apply to remove the conditions and don’t miss the deadline. Contact a DC family immigration lawyer today.