October 4, 2023


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Family Immigration – The Most Common Form of Legal Immigration

How to Immigrate to the United States

The most common form of legal immigration, family immigration allows United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to bring their relatives here.

Immediate family members, such as spouses, parents and unmarried children under 21, have high priority in the visa process.

However, other relatives must often wait years or even decades for a green card. This backlog creates a serious obstacle to immigration for countless families.

Immediate Relatives

The United States immigration system offers several family immigration paths based on the type of relationship between an immigrant and his or her sponsor. The most desirable category is immediate relatives (IR) because they have special immigration priority and do not have to wait in line for a visa number to become available.

The IR categories include spouses, unmarried children under 21 years old, and parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old.

Another important benefit of IR is that certain bars to adjustment of status do not apply. This is especially helpful for immigrants who have overstayed their visas or worked without authorization in the United States.

Despite the special immigration priority of IR, a limited number of visas is available each year for this category. These numbers are determined by a yearly quota. Applicants must be patient, though. The State Department issues a monthly visa bulletin that lists which visa numbers are currently available.

Preference Relatives

Family immigration law enables American citizens and green card holders to petition for their foreign relatives to live legally in the United States. There are two main types of family-based immigrant visas: immediate relative petitions and family preference petitions.

While immediate relatives (spouses and minor children) generally receive their green cards soon after meeting all the criteria of the extensive visa process, the wait time for other family members may vary from years to even decades based on their family preference category.

Non-immediate relatives are divided into several preference categories and assigned quotas within each category. These quotas are then subtracted from the overall number of family-based visas available each year. This results in a wait list of preferred relatives, which is often backed up for years or even decades.

Green Cards

A green card allows you to live in the United States permanently. You can work, get a US driver’s license, and travel in and out of the country.

Family immigration is a core part of the United States’s migration policy. It accounts for about two-thirds of legal immigration to the United States, more than other major immigrant-receiving countries.

The United States has a system that prioritizes family members who petition for green cards. It is called “family preference” and there are two main categories.

The first category is “F1,” which consists of spouses, minor children and unmarried sons and daughters (21 years old or older) of lawful permanent residents. 114,200 visas are issued each year under this category, and up to 77% of the family-based green cards go to these applicants.