Under U.S. immigration laws, immediate relatives include:
• Spouses of U.S. citizens (IR-1);
• Unmarried children under 21 years old of U.S. citizens (IR-2);
• Orphans adopted abroad by U.S. citizens (IR-3);
• Orphan to be adopted in the United States by U.S. citizens (IR-4); and
• Parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old.
Immediate relatives are permitted to get green cards without any quota restrictions. As a practical matter, most immediate relatives are able to become permanent residents within 12 months.
The U.S. citizen must petition for each immediate relative individually. For instance, if a U.S. citizen woman marries a man with 2 young children, she must submit 3 separate I-130 visa petitions to the USCIS, one for her spouse and one for each of her step-children. Each of these beneficiaries is required to submit a separate application for a green card.
If the marriage on which the immediate relative relationship is based is less than 2 years old, the spouse and children (if any) will receive 2-year green cards.
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No Derivative Beneficiaries for Immediate Relatives
When a U.S. citizen sponsors a parent, spouse or child, these immediate relatives are not permitted to bring other family members along with them.
For example, let’s say that an adult green card holder naturalizes and wants to sponsor his parents for green cards. They are immediate relatives, so they can immigrate relatively quickly to the U.S.
But can they bring them their 15-year-old daughter along with them? The answer is no. The parents are the principal beneficiaries, and their daughter cannot qualify as a derivative beneficiary since her parents are immigrating as immediate relatives.
Instead, her U.S. citizen brother could sponsor her as his sister, but she would have to wait abroad for many years in order to obtain a green card.
In such cases, it would preferable for the parents to immigrate under one of the employment-based or family-based preference categories listed in the monthly State Department Visa Bulletin. Using this strategy, their daughter would be able to immigrate together with them as a derivative beneficiary.
Getting a Green Card Inside the US
The process an immigrant will go through to receive a green card entails filing Form I-485 at the same time their US citizen petitioner files Form I-130. Alternatively, an applicant can submit Form I-485 at any point after their petitioner files Form I-130, as long as the I-130 is either pending or approved.
As long as the immediate relative entered the United States in a lawful manner, he is permitted to adjust status in the U.S. even if he overstayed his visa or worked in the U.S. without authorization. He does not need to apply for a waiver to do so.
Getting a Green Card Outside the US
If the immediate relative is outside the US, he is eligible to become a permanent resident through consular processing. Consular processing occurs when the Department of State schedules an immigrant visa interview after the USCIS has approved the I-130 petition. The immediate relative becomes a permanent resident when they are admitted to the US.
The Department of State notifies applicants when they are able to apply for an immigration visa. However if the application for an immigrant visa is not submitted within the time period of one year following the notice from the Department of State, the petition may be terminated.
Green Cards for Immediate Relatives Links
- Green Card for an Immediate Relative of a US Citizen (USCIS)
- Children of US Citizens – USCIS Policy Manual
- Application to Adjust Status: Form I-485 (USCIS)
- Petition for Alien Relative: Form I-130 (USCIS)
- Green Cards for Parents of US Citizens
- Green Card through Marriage to US Citizen
- Green Card through Adoption
- Adjustment of Status
- Green Card through Consular Processing
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.