U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) can petition for certain family members in order for these to obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States. Only certain categories of family members can get lawful permanent status through a familial relationship. These are: (1) immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens), who can immigrate relatively quickly to the United States, without having to wait in line for a visa to become available and (2) other family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are not immediate relatives and are subject to a quota system, divided into four preference categories.
The preference categories are divided as follows: (1) First Preference – unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; (2) Second Preference – spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (2A) and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents (2B); (3) Third Preference – married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; and (4) brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. The availability of visas under the preference system, determined by the alien’s nationality as well as his or her “priority date”, can be found online in the “Visa Bulletin”, a monthly publication of the US Department of State.
The process starts with the submission to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, by the U.S. citizen or LPR petitioner on behalf of their alien relative. Once the I-130 Petition is approved, there are two procedural ways to obtain lawful permanent residence: (1) adjustment of status – if the beneficiary is already in the United States and does not need to first depart the country in order to process the application and (2) consular processing – when the beneficiary applies for an immigrant visa before a U.S. consulate abroad. Forms I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence and Adjust Status can be filed simultaneously when a visa number is immediately available. This is called a “one-step adjustment” or “concurrent filing” and has the benefit of expediting the process.