What relatives can a US citizen or US permanent resident sponsor for US residence? And how long will it take?

Current immigration law reflects the importance of keeping families together and reunification of family members by allowing US Citizens and US Permanent Residents to file for residence (also referred to as “Green Card”) for their close relatives.

I frequently am asked what relatives one may sponsor and how long it will take. I will first discuss the relatives that may be sponsored. The answer to the question of ‘‘how long will it take?” is a bit more complicated because we must first talk about normal processing times in addition to the waiting lists that exist for some family petitions.

A US citizen can sponsor a spouse, a minor child (under age 21), and parents as “immediate relatives.” As immediate relatives, there is no limit on the number of applications that may be approved, so we only need to consider the processing time as there is no waiting list for immediate relatives.

There are two different procedures for processing the residence application. If the relative is in the US, the procedure is called “adjustment of status.” If the relative is not in the US, the procedure is called “Consular Processing.” For an immediate relative in the US and processing through adjustment of status, it takes about 7 months to obtain the residence status but they can obtain work authorization and travel permission in about three months. For an immediate relative processing, the residence through consular processing will take a few months longer – perhaps 8 to 12 months and the relative cannot come to the US to live or work until the process is completed.

For relatives, other than immediate relatives, we must consider the waiting lists as well as the processing times. A US citizen may file for unmarried or married adult sons and daughters as well as brothers and sisters. A US permanent residence may only file for spouses and unmarried children. A US resident cannot file for a parent, a married son or daughter or a sibling but can file for citizenship when eligible and then may file for the parent, married son or daughter or sibling. Neither a US citizen or a US resident may petition for grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles.

For each of the relative petitions other than for immediate relatives, there is a waiting list because the law has an annual limit on the number of application that may be approved. Once the number has been exceeded the applicants are placed on a waiting list. The waiting list is updated each month and is set forth in the monthly “Visa Bulletin” by the US Department of State. This visa bulletin shows the “priority date” for each category of relative. The priority date is established by the filing of the relative petition by the US citizen or resident. The date of the filing is the priority date. Once the relative petition is approved and the priority date is reached the residence application may be approved.

The Visa Bulletin for November 2016 shows priority dates for US Citizen petitions as follows:

1st preference – Unmarried (adult) sons and daughter of US Citizens – Oct. 22, 2009
3rd preference – Married sons and daughters of US Citizens – Jan. 22, 2005
4th preference – Brothers and Sisters of US Citizens – Dec. 1, 2003

The Visa bulletin for November 2016 shows priority dates for US Permanent Resident petitions as follows:

2 A preference – Spouses and minor children of US Permanent Residents – Jan. 22, 2015
2B preference – Unmarried Adult children of US permanent Residents – April 15, 2010

These priority dates apply to citizens of all countries except China (mainland born), India, Mexico and the Philippines. The reason for this is that in addition to the overall limit there is a per country limit on admissions and these four countries are the only countries that exceed the country limit.

What these dates tell us is that there is often a long wait to obtain residence for a relative in one of the preference categories. During this time the relative is on the waiting list they are not allowed to live or work in the US unless they have a visa – such as a student visa or a non-immigrant work visa that permits this.

Given that the reason for allowing relative petitions is keeping families together or reunifying them, the long waiting time for close family members seems to be working against this worthy goal but the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) can’t be faulted for this. The limits on family petition were set in 1990 – 26 years ago – and can’t be increased without a change in the law so the finger should be pointed at our Congress not at the USCIS. While family reunification is a fundamental principal underlying US immigration law, the current limits are often rightfully criticized for doing the opposite – keeping families separated for excessive periods of time.

In counseling clients, I have often found clients to be discouraged by the long waiting lists. Some have decided that because of the long wait, they will not file the relative petition. Sometimes I hear from these clients years later saying they wished that they had filed the petition when they first consulted me.  So, if you are considering filing for a relative don’t delay because the time does not start running until the petition is filed. Let the office of Linda M Kaplan, PA help you in understanding the process and managing it for the best possible results.

Linda M Kaplan
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