U.S. immigration law is strict about who can and cannot live and work in the United States lawfully, so it is critical to understand how the process works and what it entails.
Family member priority
The U.S. government prioritizes immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and allows an unlimited number of green cards for immediate family members. Green cards are immigrant visas designed to enable qualified individuals to live and work in the United States and, in some cases, provide them a path to U.S. citizenship.
For a foreign national to qualify for immigration as an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen, the U.S. citizen relative must provide sponsorship and file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In addition, the U.S. citizen must be:
- At least 21 years of age
- A U.S. Citizen or U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident
Who qualifies as an immediate family member?
A common question family members of U.S. citizens have is who specifically qualifies as an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen. Understanding this is essential because it differs from what many people would expect. For example, siblings of a U.S. citizen do not fall under the same category that the spouse of a U.S. citizen does.
For purposes of immigration, immediate family members of U.S. citizens are:
- The spouse of a U.S. citizen, including same-sex couples whose marriage is legal in the country where it occurred.
- Widows and widowers of U.S. citizens
- Parents of U.S. citizens, if the citizen is over 21.
- Stepparents and stepchildren, if the marriage that created the legal stepparent or stepchild relationship occurred before the child turned 18.
- Children and parents related through adoption if the adoption happened before the child turned 16.
- Fiancés of U.S. citizens are also eligible, although the process is slightly different; the visa type and rules can also differ depending on whether the fiancé is currently in the United States or abroad.
Other family members
Other family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents are eligible for green cards. However, there is a limit on the number of green cards for these applicants. These individuals are usually farther removed from the U.S. citizen in their familial relationship, such as siblings of U.S. citizens and other family members.
The immigration process can be complex and difficult to navigate, especially with constantly evolving laws and regulations. Staying informed on current laws and updates to them is critical to having a smooth immigration application process.