Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Immigration 101: Family Sponsored Green Card (I-485)

Obtaining a green card through family is difficult and can be complex. There are numerous issues that come into play on obtaining a green card (I-485) through family.  What relationships qualify for a family green card?  I am a U.S. citizen, can I file for my cousin in Russia?  For my uncle, or brother?  These questions are answered in this introductory article on obtaining a green card through family.

Overview: Green Cards Through Family
Not all family relationships serve as a basis to apply for a green card (i.e., to become a lawful permanent resident LPR). Under the immigration laws there are two basic groups:
  1. Immediate Relatives
  2. Preference Immigrants
Depending on whether you are considered an "immediate relative" or a "preference immigrant" governs the waiting times for your ability to file for your green card. The difference in the definition of each, and the waiting times for the different categories sheds light on what the U.S. government believes is the most important familial relationships necessitating a quicker processing time.

Immediate Relatives include:
  1. Spouses of U.S. citizens
  2. Minor unmarried children (under 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens
  3. Parents of U.S. citizens provided the citizen petitioner is at least 21 years of age; and
  4. Spouses of deceased U.S. citizens who were married for at least two years at the time of their citizen spouse's death provided the couple was not legally separated at the time of death, the alien spouse files the immediate relative petition within two years of death and the alien does not remarry.
The principal benefit of being an immediate relative is that there is no limitation to the number of immediate relative immigrant visas per year. This means that if you are a U.S. citizen over the age of 21 and would like to bring your mother to the United States, there will be no wait for you to file for her green card (I-485). It can all be done at once hastening the process of bringing her to the U.S. to reside here permanently. With current processing times, this can mean that your mother may obtain her green card within 6-10 months! The U.S. understands the importance of keeping families united and has created a system that benefits the closest familial relationships by allowing U.S. citizen relatives to petition for certain family members' green cards in a relatively expeditious manner.

Other family members are subject to the annual cap. These family members are seen as less close as immediate relatives, which increases the wait time to obtain lawful permanent residence in the U.S. They are the "preference Immigrants."

Preference Immigrants Include:
  1. First Preference - unmarried children of U.S. citizens (i.e., who are 21 years of age or older)
  2. Second Preference - spouse or children of LPRs (2A), or unmarried children of LPRs (2B)
  3. Third Preference - married sons or daughters of U.S. citizens
  4. Fourth Preference - brothers or sisters of U.S. citizens 21 years of age or older
The preference category relatives must wait in a much longer line for their opportunity to apply for a green card. It is advisable to file the petition for alien relative for preference immigrants as soon as possible. The green card priority date is established by such filing. The wait may be long and excruciating but it may be the only method by which those foreign nationals may ever come to the U.S. on a permanent basis.