The most common way to obtain lawful permanent residency in the United States is through a petition filed by a family member. Under American immigration law, there are two categories of familial relationships; immediate relatives and preference relationships. The law places no limit on the number of visas available for immediate relatives. Therefore an immediate relative never has to wait for a visa; one is “immediately” available.
Preference relationships, on the other hand, are allotted only a limited number of visas each year. Since more immigrants apply than there are visas available, a backlog has developed. Therefore a preference relationship requires an immigrant to file a petition and then wait for a visa in order to immigrate to the United States. The length of this wait depends on the immigrant’s country of origin and the preference category of the relationship. The following are immediate relative relationships:
- Spouses of United State citizens
- Unmarried children under the age of twenty-one of United State citizens
- Parents of United State citizens
The following categories are preference relationship:
- Children and spouses of lawful permanent residents
- Children of United State citizens who are either married or over the age of twenty-one
- Brothers or sisters of United State citizens
Once an immigrant has a visa available to him or her, they must then file to become a permanent resident. If the immigrant obtains his or her residency in the United States, the process is called adjustment of status. If the immigrant obtains their visa abroad at an American consulate, it is called consular processing.