Family-Based Immigration Laws

Every year, more than half a million people apply for family-based green cards in the United States. With help from the State Department and new family-based immigration laws, foreign citizens can apply for permanent residency in America.

Current family immigration laws make applying for a family-based green card easier. U.S. citizens can now sponsor relatives living in other countries to help them gain a green card. With family sponsorship, foreign citizens can apply for an immigrant visa and permanent residency status based on preference categories.

Preference Categories

To apply for a family-based green card, a foreign citizen is placed in a specific preference category based on his/her relationship to the U.S. relative who is sponsoring them. U.S. citizens can sponsor their spouses, children, parents, sisters and brothers, and married or unmarried sons and daughters. U.S. permanent residents are only allowed to sponsor their spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters. Preference categories are divided into “immediate relatives” and “family preference relatives.”

* Immediate Relatives – Immediate relatives include spouses, parents, and unmarried children under the age of 21. Immediate relatives are not subject to annual immigration quota limits. Adopted children are also considered immediate relatives not subject to immigration quota limits. U.S. citizens who adopt children from foreign countries are allowed to sponsor these adopted children for family-based green cards, but laws and restrictions of the foreign country will apply.

* Family Preference Relatives – Family preference relatives include sisters and brothers, married sons and daughters, and unmarried sons and daughters over the age of 21. All family preference relatives are subject to annual immigration quotas.

Immigration Quotas

U.S. immigration laws limit the number of immigrant visas available each year by country of origin. If a country has a large number of visa applications, there may be a longer wait for an immigrant visa.

For sponsored “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens, there is no required waiting time for an immigration visa number. It’s available immediately, and it is not subject to annual immigration quota limits. Sponsored “family preference relatives” are required to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available after it’s approved.

Since there are specific limits on immigrant visa quotas each year, waiting times can vary after the immigration visa petition is approved. In some cases, it can take several years to get an immigrant visa petition approved and receive an immigrant visa number from the U.S. State Department. For more information on immigration visas and quotas, click here.