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Practice Areas: Family-Based Immigration
(getting a green card through a family relationship)

The goal of family reunification is central to United States immigration law. United States citizens and lawful permanent residents (a foreign national who already has a "green card") can petition for a close family relative to become a lawful permanent resident and immigrate to live permanently in the United States. This process normally starts when the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident files an immigrant visa petition (the I-130 form) with the appropriate U.S. government office. This is often called "sponsoring" a family member to immigrate to the United States. The U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who files the I-130 is called the "petitioner" and is almost always the "sponsor." The family member who is being sponsored is called the "beneficiary." Beneficiaries must be "admissible" to the United States, which means they qualify under the "admissibility" criteria of U.S. immigration law. Most of the "admissibility" criteria are centered on health, past criminal convictions and unlawful/illegal presence in the United States.

A family member for whom an I-130 petition is filed may already be present in the United States and may qualify to adjust his or her status to lawful permanent resident. The immigration process for that family member may be completed, under certain circumstances, without that family member needing to return to his or her country of origin.

Family members immigrate as either "immediate relatives" of United States citizens, or through one of four family-based "preferences." In essence, every aspiring immigrant to the United States gets in a long line with all the other aspiring immigrants wanting to get lawful permanent residence status. Determining where in the line the foreign national ends up -- and whether the foreign national gets to jump ahead of others -- depends on the availability of the right kind of visa for the person. The United States Congress has put strict limits (also called "quota" controls) on the number of foreign nationals who are admitted every year as legal immigrants. Under the quota system as it relates to family-based immigration, visas are allocated by nationality and by the order in which applications are received for a particular family preference category. How long a foreign national has to wait in line (wait for the green card) can vary considerably.

Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens -- Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are exempt from the quota, so immediate relatives get to jump to the front of the line. Immediate relatives are:

  • spouses of U.S. citizens
  • unmarried, minor (under age 21) children of U.S. citizens
  • parents of U.S. citizens over age 21

Family Preference System

  • 1st Preference: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • 2nd "A" Preference: spouses and children (unmarried, under age 21) of lawful permanent residents (LPRs)
  • 2nd "B" Preference: unmarried sons and daughters of LPRs
  • 3rd Preference: married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • 4th Preference: brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens

The filing date of the I-130 sets the "priority date", which is the place in line for the immigrant visa. Once the I-130 petition is approved and the "priority date" becomes "current", the beneficiary may apply for an immigrant visa. "Becoming current" means that the waiting time has ended for that particular family-based preference category and beneficiary's country of birth. These waiting periods are determined monthly by the U.S. Department of State and are published as "Visa Bulletins."

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Elizabeth R. Campbell, Esq.
Law Office of Elizabeth R. Campbell
8720 Georgia Avenue, Suite 701
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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