A U.S. citizen may file an immigrant petition for (1) a spouse, (2) an unmarried child under 21 years of age, (3) an unmarried son/daughter over 21, (4) a married son/daughter regardless of age, (5) parents, or (6) siblings. The U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years of age, however, in order to file an immigrant petition on behalf of parents or siblings. Typically, the process is started by filing of a “petition for alien relative” on Form I-130. Depending on other eligibility requirements, once the petition is approved, your relative may apply to adjust his/her status/apply for permanent residency in the U.S. or process his application at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad (more on this in a future blog).
Spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents of U.S. citizen petitioners are considered “immediate relatives.” This means that, although immediate relatives are part of the overall annual cap of 480,000 immigrant visas set by Congress, immediate relatives are not subject to a numerical limit within the overall cap and your relatives under these categories do not need to wait for a visa number to become available before applying for permanent residency.
Unmarried sons/daughters over 21 (F1 category; limited to 23, 400 visas annually), married sons/daughters regardless of age (F3 category; limited to 23, 400 visas annually), and siblings (F4 category; limited to 65, 000 visas annually) of U.S. citizen petitioners are part of the “family preference” categories and subject to the cap. For these relatives, the high demand and the Congressional cap on the number of visas that are available for each category during a given year means that your relatives may have to wait several years in line while petitions that were filed before theirs are processed. Due to the number of petitions that are filed, the wait is substantially longer for nationals of Mexico and the Philippines. For instance, as of July 2016, visas for Mexican nationals under the F1 category, unmarried sons/daughters over 21 of U.S. citizens, were available to those beneficiaries under a Petition for Alien Relative filed on March 8, 1995. This means that if you were to file a petition for alien relative for your unmarried son/daughter over 21 today, the wait time is approximately 21 years! (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, July 2016 Visa Bulletin).
Often, there are other ways for your relative to immigrate to the United States. An immigration attorney can assist you by reviewing your relative’s complete immigration history and develop a plan for your relative’s immigration.