U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can petition for the immigration of a family member. While reuniting citizens and green card holders with overseas family members is an essential goal of U.S. immigration law, only specific family members are eligible for family-based immigration.

Every relation of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident does not qualify for a U.S. green card. According to Strict guidelines included in U.S. immigration law determine certain family members are considered green-card eligible. U.S. immigration law also includes strict restrictions on the number of individuals allowed into the U.S. annually from overseas in specific “family member” categories.

Who Is Eligible for Family-Based Immigration?

Extended family is not typically eligible for family-based immigration. For example, it is impossible for a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to petition on behalf of their grandparents successfully. Instead, they would need to create a chain of relationships so a more immediate family member could submit their family-based immigration petition. They could first petition for their parent/s, and after the parent or parents receive a green card and eventually their U.S. citizenship, the parent could petition for their parents (the grandparents in the first scenario). This type of case hinges on the ability to stick to a long-term plan since obtaining both a green card and U.S. citizenship generally takes several years depending on the details of any given situation.

Which Family Members are Subject to Annual Caps?

Some Visa preference categories are subject to annual limits or caps. Limits or caps means that the number of people who apply that fall into a particular category or group exceeds the number of visas (green cards) that are available to be issued to individuals in that category. Applicants in these preference categories usually experience long waiting periods (5-25 years) until a visa number is available. Wait time depends on the preference category, and the country the immigrant is applying from, as there are also per-country limits in place.

Are Immediate Relatives Required to Wait for a Green Card?

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are not subject to an annual limit. There is an unlimited number of green cards that can be issued to immigrants who are immediate relatives, as defined by U.S. immigration law. According to the law, an immediate relative is someone who is the spouse of a U.S. citizen (including same-sex marriages as of 2013 as long as the marriage is legal in the country where it occurred, and recent widows/widowers), unmarried children of a U.S. citizen under the age of 21, parents of U.S. citizens (if the child is over the age of 21), stepchildren and stepparents (if the marriage creating the relationship occurred prior to the child’s 18th birthday), parents and children related through adoption (if the adoption occurred prior to the child reaching the age of 16; rules that apply to natural parent/child relationships apply in adoption situations with additional procedures that must be followed). U.S. citizens with a fiance overseas may wish to apply for a temporary (90-day) U.S. visa or K-1 fiance visa so they can have a U.S. marriage before applying for a green card.

If you need more information on family-based immigration or if you need to talk about petitioning for a member of your family to immigrate to the United States, please get in touch with one of the experienced family-based immigration attorneys at Aronow Law PC today.