Depending on the class of the relative, some relatives of current US citizens and lawful permanent residents may be eligible for an lawful residence status immediately, which reduces the wait otherwise required by an immigrant visa. Other categories will have different wait times depending on the family situation.
Immediate relatives have the least wait times for the process. Immediate relatives are classified as spouses, children under the age of 21, and parents of current US citizens (over 21). Beyond this, there are “preference categories” applied to the various groups. The “first preference category” includes any unmarried children of current US citizens age 21 or over. Unfortunately, the wait period in this scenario is usually approximately 1 year. However, should the person typically considered a “first preference” get married prior to green card ownership, that person is converted into a “third preference” category. This category is associated with a longer wait time for the immigrant visa.
A “second preference” category includes spouses and unmarried children of current lawful permanent residents. This category further divides into preference “A” and “B”. Category “A” includes spouses or children under the age of 21. Category “B” includes are for children over the age of 21. Again, this category is dependent on the initial person involved and their citizenship connection to the United States. For example, if that person becomes a U.S. citizen during this process, any spouses or children under 21 are immediately reclassified as immediate relatives. These children must be unmarried in order to classify with a connection to a lawful permanent resident; married children do not quality for this category.
The “third preference” category includes any married children of current US citizens. The wait for this category can be several years, depending on the situation.
The fourth and final category is for “fourth preference”, which is classified for brothers and sisters and current US citizens. The wait period for this category can also be long.
There is also an additional category for fiancées. There are several different petitions available for fiancées of US citizens living abroad (as well as those based in the U.S.). A K-1 visa petition allows for the sponsoring of a fiancée of a US citizen that is currently living abroad. If there are children attached to the foreign national fiancé, they are eligible for be included on a K-2 petition. If a foreign fiancée is moving to the United States to marry a current US-based citizen, that couple must become legally married shortly after the foreign male or female moves to the US, and it can be to the couples benefit to apply for the K-1 visa prior to getting married.