United States immigration laws are designed to support family unity and keep immediate family members together. Because of this, lawful permanent residents (LPR) can petition for certain family members, including spouses and unmarried children, to legally live in the United States. However, there are congressional limits on how many family members of LPRs can legally enter the United States in a year, so there is a waiting period. This waiting period depends on the country of origin, preference category, and the demand for immigrant visas. If a relative qualifies, they can be put in a “family preference category” to help them gain legal status.
The process to gain permanent residency is different for relatives living within or outside of the United States. If a relative is living within the U.S., paperwork needs to be filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This petition needs to be approved, and a priority date is set. An important thing to keep in mind is that the relative must maintain legal status throughout the whole waiting period for the priority date to become “current” to file for the green cards without having to leave the U.S. Once the priority date is “current” the relative can file for adjustment of status in the U.S. without having to leave so long as the relative maintained legal status throughout the entire time period. After these forms are approved, the relative can become a permanent resident.
The procedure for family members who aren’t living in the United States is slightly different. LPRs petitioning for qualifying family members still have to file paperwork with USCIS, and relatives have to wait for priority dates to become “current” before entering the country. includes submitting necessary paperwork at a U.S. embassy or consulate, and attending an interview. After consular processing, relatives can enter the United States as permanent residents.
Other factors can affect this process, such as the age of the relative, if they get married, or if the permanent resident becomes a US citizen. After children of permanent residents turn 21, they no longer qualify for the same process, and gaining legal status may take even longer. However, there are certain exceptions to this law under the Child Status Protection Act. If the relative of a permanent resident gets married, they cannot qualify for residency, as there is no visa category for married relatives of permanent residents. If the permanent resident becomes a citizen, the process may go faster, because relatives will be put in a different preference category.