United States Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents can sponsor certain family members for permanent residence in the United States. This is the most common method of obtaining one’s “green card.” Eligible family members include spouses, fiancés, children, parents, and siblings. Certain family members qualify as immediate relatives while others must wait for a visa preference category to become available. Individuals may also qualify for permanent residence through employment.

Immediate Relatives

Spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents of United States citizens are considered immediate relatives and are immediately eligible for immigrant visas if their U.S. citizen spouse, parent, or son or daughter petitions for them. Additionally parents may only qualify if their U.S. citizen son or daughter is at least 21 years old. While this means that there is no wait for visa issuance, it does not guarantee that any spouse, minor child, or parent of a U.S. citizen qualifies for permanent residence. The United States no longer makes a distinction between a same-sex marriage and any other qualifying marriage.

Preference Categories

Other relatives of U.S. citizens are classified into several preference categories for which a fixed number of visas is made available each year. Adult sons and daughters are separated into two categories, depending on their marital status, while siblings of U.S. citizens over 21 years old are in another category. Spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents may also qualify under a separate preference category, while others may be eligible for derivative permanent residence based on the method by which their spouse or parent obtained his or her green card. Aliens immigrating based on a preference visa are eligible to bring their own spouses and minor children to the United States with them.

Because the number of preference visas is severely limited each year and for each country, the categories can process years behind. The U.S. Department of State publishes a Visa Bulletin each month listing the expected processing times for each type of case. During this waiting time the eligible alien must wait outside the United States or within the United States with lawful status.


United States citizens may also petition for their alien fiancés to enter the United States. Fiancés are treated as immediate relatives because they will be spouses of U.S. citizens when the process is completed; the process to bring a fiancé to the United States differs from other relatives because the relationship will not be created until after arrival. Instead, fiancés are given short-term visas to allow entry after which they must marry the petitioning U.S. citizen within 90 days. After their marriage, the alien may apply immediately for his or her green card.

Petitioning for a Family Member

When U.S. citizens or permanent residents wish to file for their family members, they must first send a petition to the United States government requesting the classification. Sponsors must demonstrate an appropriate relationship and guarantee financial support for their alien relatives. Relatives may apply for permanent residence from outside the United States and those lawfully within the United States (and in limited cases, those unlawfully present within the United States) may be able to adjust their status to permanent resident. U.S. citizens petitioning for a fiancé must additionally demonstrate their intention to marry within 90 days of entry and that they have met in person within the prior two years.

I-601 Waivers

Aliens with prior immigration violations such as unlawful entry, certain crimes, or immigration fraud may require waivers of their inadmissibility to become eligible for permanent residence. The United States permits hardship waivers (also known as I-601 waivers) for these applicants. In order to overcome the prior violation, the alien must show that there will be extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative if he or she cannot come to, or remain in, the United States. New procedures allow some applicants to remain in the United States while USCIS processes their provisional waiver applications.

Contact Us

Greenberg Visa Law can assist with you all forms of family-based immigration including spouse visas, fiancé visas, and extreme hardship waivers regardless of whether the applicant is in the United States or abroad. Circumstances are specific to each case and we encourage applicants to contact a qualified immigration attorney before proceeding. Contact us today for a consultation with an experienced immigration lawyer.