Family Immigration Visas and Green Cards
Husbands and Wives
If an alien is married to a U.S citizen, they may be able to obtain status as a legal permanent resident of the United States. Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered "immediate relatives" under immigration law. If the alien spouse is already present in the U.S, their U.S. citizen spouse may file a visa petition on their behalf, simultaneously with the alien spouse filing an application for an adjustment of status (to obtain a green card) and an application for work authorization. After filing this application, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) will examine and evaluate the application in addition to conducting a personal interview of the married couple, to determine if the marriage qualifies as a "bona fide" marriage for immigration purposes. If approved by before the second wedding anniversary, the alien will be granted a conditional resident status. After a prescribed period of time, the alien can then apply to have the condition removed and be granted status as a legal permanent resident of the United States. Ultimately, the alien may be eligible to apply for citizenship.
If a U.S. citizen is married to a foreign born spouse who is outside of the U.S., the process differs in that the foreign born spouse is processed for an immigrant visa, after approval of the visa petition, through the United States Consulate located in the country in which the foreign spouse resides.
Divorce from a U.S. citizen by an alien before the alien acquires legal permanent resident status can affect the alien’s ability to obtain legal permanent resident status.
Battered Spouses and Children
Battered spouses and children of U.S. citizens may be entitled to special benefits under immigration law (Violence Against Act - VAWA) that may allow them to obtain legal permanent resident status.
Parents and Children
Parents of U.S. citizens are eligible for permanent resident status as immediate relatives. The U.S. citizen child must be 21 years of age or older to apply for a parent.
Children of U.S. citizens may obtain permanent residency in the United States if the petition for an immigrant visa is filed before the unmarried child reaches the age of 21. The Child Status Protection Act addresses situations concerning "aging out" (children who turn 21 before their visa petition is approved). Step-children and adopted children may also qualify for permanent residency, provided certain conditions are met.
Spouses and Children of U.S. Legal Permanent Residents
Spouses and children of U.S. permanent residents can be eligible for permanent residency in the U.S., however, instead of qualifying as an “immediate relative” they qualify for the “second preference”, family-based category. Therefore, they will usually be subject to a lengthy wait, often several years, before they can come to the United States. However, there can be advantages for the U.S. legal permanent resident to petition while a still legal permanent resident and later converting their sponsoring petition to that of an immediate relative or another preference category upon becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Brothers and Sisters
Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens may obtain legal permanent residence in the U.S. if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older. To qualify as a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, the brother or sister and the U.S. citizen must share at least one parent in common. However, the number of yearly permanent residents allowed for this category is limited, thus the waiting period can be lengthy. Immediate family members of the brother or sister (such as their spouse and children) may also be granted legal permanent resident status at the same time.
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