Historically, family reunification has been the principal policy underlying U.S. immigration law. Family-based immigration allows close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) (also called legal immigrants) to immigrate to the United States. Family members immigrate either as “certain” immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through the family preference system as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or LPRs.
“A legal immigrant is a foreign-born individual who has been admitted to reside in the United States as a lawful permanent resident. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) §101(a)(20).”
Immigrating as Immediate Relatives
Immediate relatives include spouses of U.S. citizens, unmarried minor children of U.S. citizens, and parents of U.S. citizens age 21 or older. The benefit of immigrating as an immediate relative is there is no cap, or quota, on the number of visas available each year.
U.S. consulates abroad issue immigrant visas. In addition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (successor to the Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS]) or the Executive Office for Immigration Review may adjust an applicant’s status to LPR in the United States. Whether applicants for immigrant visas are eligible to adjust status or must go through the consular process depends on several factors, including whether they made a lawful entry to the United States, whether they violated the terms of their nonimmigrant visa, when they filed the alien relative petition, and whether they are immigrating as an immediate relative or through the preference system.
All citizens who wish to petition for a family member must have an income of at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level and must execute a legally enforceable affidavit in which they agree to support their family member. If this is not feasible, they must secure the assistance of a joint sponsor.
Our next blog post will describe the preference categories for family based cases.
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