As you have seen in previous posts, or through your personal experience, obtaining legal status in the United States can be complicated.
Today, I want to walk you through the basics of the family-sponsored preference system. If you are a citizen or permanent resident (Green Card) of the United States, you may petition to help your family members obtain permanent residency. However, there are a lot of rules governing who can petition and how long it will take.
If you are classified as an “Immediate Relative,” which means the spouse of a US citizen, parents of a US citizen, or unmarried child of a US citizen, then the family-sponsored preference system does not apply to you. The petition can go through very “quickly” meaning that if your family member is already in the United States and entered legally, they can become a permanent resident (Green Card holder) within about six months. (if the family member came in illegally, see my blog post about waivers from 9/15/2015).
However, if the family member is not categorized as an “Immediate Relative” then you go into the family-sponsored preference system. This means that you are on a wait list until your turn for permanent residency.
Here are the family-sponsored preferences:
(F1) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.:
(F2A) Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents (Green Card holders): 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit;
(F2B) Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents (Green Card holders): 23% of the overall second preference limitation.
(F3) Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.
(F4) Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens: 65,000, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences.
As you may have noticed, there are some groups of people left out- for example, permanent residents (Green Card holders) cannot petition for their parents, nor can they petition for their children if they are married or their brothers or sisters. To do this, one must be a US citizen.
The United States only allows a fixed number of permanent residents into the United States each year from each country. Therefore, if there are a lot of people coming from your country to the United States under the family-sponsored preferences, there may be a large backlog. This has resulted in special wait-lists for China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines, who all have longer wait lists than other countries.
Each month, the Department of Homeland Security posts a new visa bulletin showing who’s turn it is to become a permanent resident and receive their green card.
Here is the bulletin posted for May, 2016:
Here, you’ll see that if you are from the Philippines and your US citizen brother or sister petitioned for you on October 1, 1992, you are just now able to receive your Green Card, eleven years longer than the normal thirteen-year wait! Twenty-four years waiting for a Green Card!
Another anomaly that frequently confuses my clients is the difference between category F1 (unmarried sons and daughters of US Citizens) and F2B (unmarried sons and daughters (21 years or older) of permanent residents (Green Card holders). One would imagine that as a citizen, the petition would be faster. However, it is about a year faster for permanent residents to petition for their unmarried children over 21 than for citizens to petition for their sons and daughters over 21!
There are many ways to work with these petitions, making the right decision can save years waiting. For example, the Child Status Protection Act, which allows someone to turn 21 and still come in as if they were under 21 if the petitioner is a citizen and the application is filed prior to their 21st birthday.
This is a brief summary only. It is highly recommended that anyone trying to obtain a Green Card contact an attorney to see which way is the best for their specific situation.