Family-Based Immigration

Did you know that nearly three-quarters of all legal immigration is family-based immigration? For the past fifty years, family unification has been at the heart our national immigration policy. Today, eligible family-sponsored immigrants are divided among four “preferences” and a separate category, referred to as “immediate relatives.”

“Immediate relatives” are the most favored of all family-based immigrants. The term refers to the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and the parents of adult U.S. citizens. Unlike the preference categories, immediate relatives are not subject to numerical limitations. For this reason, petitions for immediate relatives are processed much faster than any other family-based category. In addition, the law excuses some immediate relatives from the consequences of certain immigration violations, such as overstaying a visa and employment without authorization.

Family members who are not “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens may still immigrate if they fall into one of the following family-based preferences:

  • First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens;
  • Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under the age of 21), and the unmarried adult sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents;
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens;
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.

The family-based preferences are subject to restrictive numerical limits. This means that a person who falls within one of the family-based preferences may still have to wait for many years to become a legal permanent resident. The mere filing or the approval of a Petition within one of the family-based preferences does not permit a person to live and work legally in the U.S.

U.S. immigration law does not allow citizens or legal residents (green card holders) to sponsor any other family members, except for those described above. It is not possible for a U.S. citizen or legal resident to sponsor a grandparent, aunt or uncle, cousin or close friend. It is also not possible for a minor child under the age of 21 to sponsor a parent for legal residence. However, the law does recognize many parent-child and sibling relationships created by adoption, step relationships and legitimation.

In June 2013, an exciting and historic development took place relating to federal recognition of same-sex marriage for immigration purposes. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor v. United States, the federal government has recognized and implemented marriage equality for same-sex and opposite-sex spouses. In the immigration area, the decision means that marriage-based and family-based immigration benefits are now available through all legal marriages, wherever performed, between same-sex spouses. For more information about immigration benefits for same-sex spouses, click here.

The law also recognizes the unique circumstances of non-citizens who are victims of domestic abuse. For more information on the options for non-citizens who are abused by their citizen or permanent resident spouses or sponsors, including the self-filing petition for victims of domestic violence, please click here.

Family-based immigration can be one of the most complicated areas of immigration law. Even a seemingly simple case can require analysis and strategy that only an experienced immigration lawyer can provide. The Law Office of Matthew I. Hirsch invites you to contact us to review and discuss your questions on family-based immigration.