Immigration

What Types of Family-Based U.S. Immigrant Visas Are Available?

By Richard Link, Attorney
U.S. permanent residence is available to spouses, parents, children, brothers, and sisters of a U.S. citizen, as well as spouses and children of U.S. permanent residents. In some cases derivative family members—spouses and children of those eligible--can get permanent residence as well.

To get permanent resident status in the United States on the basis of a family relationship, you must be the spouse, parent, child, brother, or sister of a U.S. citizen or the spouse or child of a U.S. permanent resident. In some cases, if you are the spouse or child of someone getting permanent residence through a family relationship, you can become a permanent resident along with that person.

Parent of a U.S. Citizen

If your child is a U.S. citizen over the age of 21, he or she can sponsor you for permanent resident status in the United States. You are considered an “immediate relative” of a U.S. citizen and you will not have to wait for a “visa number” to become available before becoming a permanent resident, since there are unlimited visa numbers for immediate relatives.

Being the parent of a U.S. permanent resident is not a basis for you to get permanent residence. You will have to wait until that person "naturalizes," and becomes a U.S. citizen.

Child of a U.S. Citizen

Some children born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent or parents don’t need an immigrant visa to become a permanent resident because they are automatically U.S. citizens when they are born. See the articles on this subject elsewhere on this site. Instead of a visa, the parents would apply for a U.S. passport for the child.

If the child does need to become a permanent resident of the United States, a U.S. citizen parent can sponsor the child. “Child” means someone who is under age 21 and not married. A child of a U.S. citizen is an “immediate relative” and does not have to wait for a “visa number” to become available before becoming a permanent resident, since there are unlimited visa numbers for immediate relatives.

Adult Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen

The adult son or daughter of a U.S. citizen is also eligible to become a permanent resident of the United States. The difference between an adult son or daughter and a “child” (under 21) of a U.S. citizen is that the adult son or daughter is not an “immediate relative” of the U.S. citizen and so must wait for a “visa number” to become available before becoming a permanent resident.

The wait time is different for those who are married and those who aren’t.

The spouses and children of adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens can also become permanent residents of the United States, as “derivatives” of their immigrating spouse or parent.

Child of a U.S. Permanent Resident

A permanent resident of the United States can sponsor his or her child to become a permanent resident as well. “Child” means someone who is under age 21 and not married.

After the parent files the sponsoring petition, usually the child must wait for a “visa number” to become available before becoming a permanent resident. The number of children of U.S. permanent residents who can become permanent residents themselves is limited each year, causing a wait list to develop.

The children of the child of a U.S. permanent resident can also become permanent residents of the United States at the same time as “derivatives” of their parent. The spouse of the child of a U.S. permanent resident cannot be a derivative, because for the immigrating spouse to qualify as a “child,” he or she must be unmarried.

Adult Son or Daughter of a U.S. Permanent Resident

The adult son or daughter of a U.S. permanent resident is also eligible to become a permanent resident of the United States, but only if he or she is not married. Like the children of U.S. permanent residents, adult unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents are not “immediate relatives,” and so must wait for a “visa number” to become available before becoming a permanent resident.

The only difference between being an adult son or daughter of a U.S. permanent resident and a “child” of a U.S. permanent resident is that the adult son or daughter will have a longer wait to become a permanent resident.

The children of an adult unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. permanent resident can also become permanent residents of the United States at the same time, as “derivatives” of their parent.

Stepchildren, Adopted Children, and Children Born out of Wedlock

“Child” includes a stepchild. A “stepchild” is any child who was under 18 when the marriage creating the stepchild relationship occurred.

“Child” also includes an adopted child. Ordinarily, the child must have been adopted before he or she was 16. There are rules about which adoptions can be recognized as creating a parent-child relationship. Certain adopted children who are now U.S. citizens over the age of 21 cannot sponsor their birth parents or any prior adoptive parents. If you’re not sure whether your adoption will be recognized, see an immigration lawyer.

If a child was born to parents who were not married to each other at the time, the mother-child relationship will be recognized, but the father-child relationship requires a legal process called “legitimation” before the child turns 18 or else proof that the father has a true parental relationship with the child.

Spouse of a U.S. Citizen

The spouse of a U.S. citizen does not automatically become a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but he or she can become a permanent resident if the U.S. citizen petitions for him or her. You have to be legally married according to the laws of the country you were married in. Any previous marriages must have been legally terminated.

As the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you are considered an “immediate relative” of a U.S. citizen and you will not have to wait for a “visa number” to become available before becoming a permanent resident, since there are unlimited visa numbers for immediate relatives.

Spouse of a U.S. Permanent Resident

The spouse of a U.S. permanent resident can become a permanent resident also, if the U.S. spouse petitions for him or her. You have to be legally married according to the laws of the country you were married in. Any previous marriages must have been legally terminated.

After the U.S. spouse files the sponsoring petition, usually the foreign-born spouse must wait for a “visa number” to become available before becoming a permanent resident. The number of spouses of U.S. permanent residents who can become permanent residents themselves is limited each year, causing a wait list to develop.

The children of the spouse of a U.S. permanent resident can also become permanent residents of the United States at the same time as the main immigrant, as “derivatives” of their parent.

Brother or Sister of a U.S. Citizen

The brother or sister of a U.S. citizen can become a permanent resident of the United States, if the U.S. brother or sister petitions for him or her.

Permanent residence is available not only to full siblings, but to brothers and sisters who share only one parent through biological birth, those who became related after adoption, and those who are related through a stepparent.

After the U.S.-citizen brother or sister files the sponsoring petition, the foreign brother or sister must wait for a “visa number” to become available before becoming a permanent resident. The number of brothers or sisters of U.S. citizens who can become permanent residents is limited each year, causing a long wait list to develop.

The spouse and children of the brother or sister of a U.S. citizen can become permanent residents of the United States at the same time as the primary immigrant, as “derivatives” of their spouse or parent.

Other Relatives of a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident

Unfortunately, no other relative of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is eligible for U.S. permanent residence on the basis of a family relationship. Grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and cousins do not qualify.

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