Legal permanent residents (LPRs) and native-born or naturalized U.S. citizens (USCs) that have relatives who were born in another country are often able to petition for and help family members obtain lawful permanent residence (i.e., a green card). Family members fall into different categories for purposes of immigration processing, and each of these categories has different processing times. This month we’re taking a further look at what these categories are for the family members of U.S. citizens and residents.

U.S. citizens can file a petition to bring some of their family members into the U.S. permanently. The family members eligible to be sponsored can be divided into two categories. The first category is “immediate family members” that are directly related to the petitioner. This category includes parents, spouses, and minor/unmarried children. The second category is a “family preference relative,” which are defined as more distant members in the family that qualify to be petitioned. These family members include unmarried sons and daughters who are over 21 years old, married children of any age, and siblings. For Legal Permanent Residents, the list of qualifying family members is far more limited. A green card holder can only sponsor their spouse and/or their unmarried children; no other family members are eligible until the LPR becomes a citizen. These petitions also have a longer processing time. Spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents also fall in the category of “family preference relatives.” Congress sets annual limits on the number of green cards available to people in these categories. Because the demand for these visas nearly always exceeds the supply on a yearly basis, preference relatives end up on waiting lists that can last many years before they can immigrate to the United States. Only when their “priority date” is current can they move forward and complete the process of getting an immigrant visa and lawful permanent residence.

As mentioned, the processing time for all petitions depends on whether the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident and what the family relationship is. For immediate relatives (i.e., parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21) of U.S. citizens living outside of the U.S., there is no “wait time” on a list, so to speak, but processing times have been extended in our post-Covid world due to delays. As of this article, processing times for immediate relatives outside of the U.S. are currently estimated between 18-24 months due to consular delays. For those immediate relatives currently living in the U.S., the processing time is approximately 8-16 months and varies by local jurisdiction. For immediate relatives (spouse or unmarried child) of a legal permanent resident living outside of the U.S., processing times for these petitions are generally extended by 6-12 months.

The Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication released by the U.S. Department of State that provides information on the availability of immigrant visa numbers. It is used to determine when a foreign national can apply for a permanent residency in the United States. The bulletin shows which priority dates have become “current,” meaning that visas are available for that particular category and country of birth. The priority date is determined by the date the immigrant petition was filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To read the visa bulletin, one must first determine the immigrant category and country of birth. Then, one can check the chart to see if the priority date is current and whether the applicant can proceed with the next steps in the application process. The current visa bulletin can be found here:

If you have questions or concerns regarding immigration family petitions or reading the visa bulletin, we encourage you to call us for assistance. Our team of experienced immigration lawyers can provide guidance and support throughout the process. We understand that navigating the immigration system can be complex and stressful, especially when it comes to family petitions. Whether you’re seeking to sponsor a spouse, child, parent, or sibling, we can help you understand the eligibility requirements, application processes, and potential roadblocks you may encounter. With our guidance, you can feel confident that you’re taking the necessary steps to achieve your immigration goals. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today for a consultation.

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