Many people who are United States Citizens (USC’s) or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR’s) have family members in other countries. Often times, they would like those family members to join them legally in the United States. This type of family-based immigration is possible. However, as described below, the waiting time can be either short or long, depending on the status of the petitioner in the United States and the country where the relative lives.
Parents and unmarried minor children of USC’s. Parents and unmarried children (under age 21) of USC’s are classified as “immediate relatives”. They must still petition for an immigrant visa, but there is no numerical limit on the number of immigrant visas that can be issued as long as the overall cap is not exceeded. If a petition for an immediate relative is approved, the relative will be interviewed at the embassy or consulate in his or her home country. If acceptable, an immigrant visa will be issued and the parent or child can come to live in the United States. If the parent or child is already legally in the United States at the time of petition, it may be possible to obtain LPR status without the relative returning home first.
Other Children and Siblings of USC’s. Children and siblings of USC’s who are not “immediate relatives” are put into a preference category depending on relationship to the USC and marital status. Even if the person is acceptable, only a certain number of visas are available per country per year. The waiting time changes constantly, but can be up to or over 10 years for some countries. However, even with the long wait time, it is better to file sooner rather than later. Filing the petition will give the relative a “priority date” for the visa and start the clock running.
Spouses and Unmarried Minor Children of LPR’s. LPR’s can petition for spouses and unmarried minor children, but the process takes much longer than it does for USC’s. LPR relatives, even spouses and unmarried children, are subject to the preference system and do not obtain visas immediately. It is still better to file the petition and obtain a priority date. However, we advise clients who are eligible to become USC’s to do so as quickly as possible. Doing so will often shorten the waiting time for their relative’s immigration, and may make a visa immediately available if the relative is a spouse or unmarried child under age 21. In very rare cases, a spouse or unmarried minor child of an LPR may be eligible for a V visa (allowing them essentially to wait in the U.S. rather than at home), if the petition was filed prior to December 21, 2000 and has been pending (or a visa number has not been available) for 3 or more years.
Overall, family-based immigration can be a lengthy and frustrating process. It is hard to be separated from loved ones for years while waiting for a visa number to become available. However, the sooner the process is started, the sooner the visa can be issued. Hopefully, future increases in the number of available visas will shorten the waiting times. If so, a better priority date may mean a shorter wait.
Originally Published May 2007