Three ways families can legally enter the United States

Immigration law in the United States allows for both citizens and legal permanent residents to petition for entry on behalf of their relatives who live in other countries. While it is generally easier for immediate relatives of US citizens to obtain visas, spouses and unmarried children of green card holders are also eligible. Different rules apply depending upon the petitioner’s status and the status of the person wishing to gain entry, and it is important to understand these differences before filing.

Immediate relative petitions

United States citizens can petition for green cards on behalf of their spouses and their unmarried children who are under the age of 21. If petitioners are older than 21, they may also sponsor their parents. Immediate relative petitions are not subject to the waiting period for available visa numbers. Instead, there is an unlimited number of green cards in this category. It is important to note that an immediate relative petition applies only to the person seeking entry, and separate petitions must be filed for that person’s spouse or children. Legal permanent residents of the United States cannot file immediate relative petitions.

Family preference petitions

Both US citizens and legal permanent residents can file family preference petitions. Citizens may sponsor their unmarried children who are more than 21 years of age, and their married children of any age. If citizen petitioners are over age 21, they may also petition on behalf of their brothers and sisters. People who hold green cards in the US can use family preference petitions to sponsor their spouses and their unmarried children. Once a family preference petition is approved, the spouse and minor children of the immigrant are also eligible for green cards if there are no other reasons to bar entry, such as a serious criminal record. People who are approved for entry into the US through family preference petitions must still wait for available visa numbers rather than gaining immediate entry.

Relief for immigrant children who surpass age 21 during the petition process

While a child is usually defined as someone under the age of 21 and unmarried for immigration purposes, the U.S. Government recognizes that some people might age out during the long petition process. The Child Status Protection Act allows those people to ask for classification as children despite their age if they meet eligibility criteria.

Petitioner requirements

Citizens and legal permanent residents who wish to petition for entry on behalf of relatives must meet their own eligibility requirements. They must prove, for example, that they are legally related to the person for whom they are seeking entry. Petitioners must also prove that they can adequately provide for that person financially once they arrive in the US. A qualified immigration attorney can guide prospective family petitioners through the petition process, providing important guidance and legal representation along the way.