Family Immigration

For family-based immigration, the U.S. government does limit the number of foreign nationals who can obtain Permanent Resident status (also known as a “Green Card”) in the United States and has established the U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System. Under the current U.S. immigration laws, a foreign national must be approved for a family-based immigrant visa classification in the U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System before being eligible to apply for a Permanent Resident Card (or status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States).

U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System: The U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System contains several family-based immigrant classifications. The first preference classification is for unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and older) of U.S. citizens. The second preference classification is earmarked for spouses, children and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and older) of lawful Permanent Residents. The third preference family-based classification includes married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Brothers and Sisters of U.S. citizens are placed in the fourth preference classification.

Immediate Relatives: The spouse, parents and unmarried children under age 21 of a U.S. citizen qualify for Permanent Resident status immediately and are not counted in the U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System. The U.S. citizen must petition U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for this Immediate Relative Classification, then the foreign national relative can apply for Permanent Resident status in the United States..

Conditional Resident Status: For Immediate Relative cases based upon marriage to a U.S. Citizen, if at the time USCIS is ready to approve the application for the Permanent Resident Card, the U.S. Citizen and foreign national spouse have been married for less than two (2) years, Conditional Permanent Resident Status will be given to the foreign national spouse. Conditional Resident Status is just like Permanent Resident Status with the exception that after two (2) years, the foreign national spouse and U.S. Citizen must file a petition with USCIS to remove the conditions. Via this petition, USCIS is seeking confirmation that a viable marriage does exist and the purpose of the marriage was not to obtain a Permanent Resident Card for the foreign national spouse. If after two years the marriage no longer exists, the foreign national spouse may still be eligible to petition to have the conditions removed. Only after the foreign national spouse has been a Permanent Resident for three (3) years (including the two years as a Conditional Resident) will he or she be eligible to apply for naturalization (U.S. citizenship) if the requirements for naturalization are met.

Qualifying for a Family-Based Immigrant Classification: To qualify for a specific family-based immigrant classification, other than as an immediate relative, the relationship to the U.S. citizen or lawful Permanent Resident is considered. A family-based immigrant visa petition is filed with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services ("USCIS") along with documentation of the familial relationship.

Applying for Permanent Resident Status: Once the family-based immigrant visa petition has been approved and when an immigrant visa is available in the U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System, the foreign national can apply for the Permanent Resident Card (“Green Card”). If eligible under the U.S. immigration laws, the Permanent Resident Card application processing can be completed while the foreign national is present in the United States. This process is called "adjustment of status." If the foreign national is outside the United States or is not eligible for adjustment of status, Permanent Resident Card processing can be completed abroad at a U.S. Consular Post.

Medical Examination: All applicants for Permanent Resident status must have a medical examination completed by a government-approved physician (Civil Surgeon). To the examination, the foreign national must bring his or her Immunization Records. If the Civil Surgeon determines certain vaccinations are requried, they may be given or an exception may be granted in limited instances.

Proof of Financial Support – An Affidavit of Support: A foreign national applying for Permanent Resident status or an Immigrant Visa has always been required to demonstrate he or she would not become a “public charge” of the United States. For the Permanent Resident Card processing, the family Sponsor must submit an Affidavit of Support on behalf of the foreign national family member to show that the Green Card applicant will not become a public charge in the United States. This Affidavit of Support is a legally binding contract between the Sponsor and the U.S. and/or local government. It can only be voided when the foreign national dies or becomes an U.S. Citizen or is credited with 40 qualifying quarters of coverage as defined by the Social Security Act. The Sponsor must possess an income and/or assets valued at least 125% of the stated poverty guideline for the family size. The Sponsor also agrees to notify the government when his or her address changes – failure to do so can result in a fine.

Interview: Typically all family-based immigration applicants are interviewed – either by a Consular Official if the Green Card processing is completed while the applicant is outside the United States; or by an Officer of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services if the Permanent Resident status processing is completed within the United States under “adjustment of status”. The purpose of the interview is to confirm the family relationship and in marriage cases, make a determination that a viable marriage exists - - that the purpose of the marriage was not to give an immigration benefit (a Permanent Resident Card) to the foreign national spouse.

Nonimmigrant Visa Classifications for Family-Based Immigration: A foreign national fiancée, spouse or child of a U.S. citizen may be eligible to obtain a visa to apply to enter the United States before the Permanent Resident status processing is commenced or completed. Options for such nonimmigrant visa classifications include:

• Fiancée (K-1 Nonimmigrant): A Fiancée nonimmigrant visa is available only to the fiancée of a U.S. Citizen. The fiancée and U.S. citizen must marry within 90 days of the fiancée’s admission/entry to the United States using the K-1 nonimmigrant visa. The accompanying minor child of the fiancée may obtain a K-2 nonimmigrant visa.

• Spouse of a U.S. Citizen (K-3 Nonimmigrant): The K-3 nonimmigrant visa is available to a spouse of a U.S. citizen who is outside the United States, but would otherwise not be able to complete the Permanent Resident status processing in the United States. The purpose of this visa classification is for family reunification – to accommodate an abstruse provision of the U.S. immigration law. The accompanying minor child of the foreign national spouse is issued a K-4 nonimmigrant visa.

• Spouse and/or Child (unmarried and under age 21) of a Lawful Permanent Resident (V Nonimmigrant): The spouse and/or child of a lawful Permanent Resident are eligible for the V nonimmigrant visa classification if three or more years have passed since the approval of the family-based immigrant visa petition and an immigrant visa remains unavailable in the U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System. Like the K-3 nonimmigrant visa classification, the V nonimmigrant visa classification is aimed at family reunification – to accommodate an abstruse provision of the U.S. immigration law.

Disclaimer: The information provided at is as a source of information and is not to be construed as legal advice, nor is it a solicitation for legal services.

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The U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System allocates Immigrant Visas by country/nationality, immigrant classification, and priority date. A priority date is obtained when the immigrant petition is filed with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.

Department of State Visa Bulletin of Priority Dates for the U.S. Immigrant Visa Quota System: