A United States citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States (a "green card" holder) can file a petition for his or her relatives to immigrate to the United States as follows:
United States Citizens
- Spouses of U.S. citizens: Immediate Relative
- Minor children of U.S. citizens (under the age of 21): Immediate Relative
- Parents of U.S. citizens (if the citizen is over 21): Immediate Relative
- Unmarried sons or daughters of U.S. citizens: First Preference
- Married children of U.S. citizen: Third Preference
- Siblings of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is over 21): Fourth Preference
Lawful Permanent Residents ("Green Card" holders)
- Spouses & minor children of permanent residents: Second Preference A
- Unmarried children of permanent residents over 21: Second Prefernce B
Waiting Time: Preference Categories and Priority Dates
Congress has designated “preferences” for different groups seeking United States permanent resident status. For family based petitions, the preference category is determined by the specific family relationship.
Each year, there are a specific number of immigrant visas ("green cards") available for individuals of each nationality in each preference category. Countries with high levels of immigration (e.g. Philippines, Mexico, India and China) tend to “back up” and have longer waiting periods.
Immediate relatives of United States citizens are not subject to these quota restrictions. Therefore, an individual with an immediate relative who is a United States citizen does not have to wait on line. However, most family based preference categories have waiting times that are many years long.
The Department of State’s Visa Bulletin lists the waiting periods for nationals of different countries in the various family based preference categories. The “priority date” listed in the Visa Bulletin chart refers to the date the initial family based petition was filed with the USCIS and establishes the place on line. When a priority date is listed as current in the Visa Bulletin, it is possible to file the final application for United States permanent resident status. To access the Visa Bulletin, click on our Useful Links button.