United States citizens and permanent residents (Green Card holders) can assist their qualifying relatives in petitioning for citizenship and permanent residency in the United States. In addition, qualifying widows can petition for themselves based on the status of their deceased spouse within 2 years of the death of the spouse.
To be clear, people use a few terms to describe permanent resident status. A permanent resident is someone who has a valid Green Card and has immigrated to the United States, is a lawful permanent resident (LPR), has adjusted status to permanent resident, or received an immigrant visa. All these terms mean the same thing – a person who has permanent resident status. A permanent resident may:
Live and work permanently in the United States,
Travel in and out of the United States (with some restrictions),
Help other family members (spouse and unmarried sons and daughters) immigrate by filing a petition for them, and
Apply for U.S. citizenship, after some years as a permanent resident.
WHO IS INCLUDED IN FAMILY IMMIGRATION PETITIONS
Under current law, “immediate relatives” of a United States citizen may immigrate to the United States without any restrictions on the number of immediate relatives allowed into the United States. “Immediate relatives” include the parents, spouses and unmarried children (under 21 years old). While no quotas apply to this category, there can be processing delays in obtaining LPR status for these “immediate relatives.”
Other family members of United States citizens or LPRs are divided into preference categories. Each preference category allows admission into the United States only a limited number of immigrants per year. Family members in these categories must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:
First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters (at least 21 years old) of United States citizens.
Second Preference: Spouses of Green Card holders, and the unmarried sons and daughters (regardless of age) of Green Card holders and their children.
Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of United States citizens, their spouses and their minor children.
Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult (21 years or older) of United States citizens, their spouses and their minor children.
For each of these preference categories, there generally are long waiting periods before the sponsored individual may become a LPR. Waiting periods are set for each preference category according to country of birth and are published by the Department of State monthly in their publicly viewable visa bulletin. Receiving a place in line does not provide any legal status or right to remain in the United States, nor does it allow for employment authorization. In most instances, the family relationship must be maintained throughout the waiting period for LPR status.
The foregoing is general information, not legal advice, and additional issues are involved in pursuing most family-based petitions. Rothfelder Stern Immigration Law Firm in Trenton New Jersey is available to advise and assist you in pursuing family-based immigration visas and related matters.