Family unification is a major objective of U.S. immigration laws. Several carefully defined groups are eligible to immigrate to the U.S. based upon close family relationships. Immigrant visas are always immediately available in unlimited numbers for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. An immediate relative is classified as an unmarried child under 21 years of age or spouse of a U.S. citizen, and the parents of a U.S. citizen over 21 years of age.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service must be satisfied that in an application based on a marriage the marriage is not only legal but that a bona fide marriage relationship exists. Severe penalties may be imposed for fraudulent applications.
The Immigration Act allocates a total of 465,000 visas to other categories of relatives:
- Adult unmarried children of U.S. citizens qualify for the Family Based 1st preference category;
- unmarried children under 21 years of age and spouses of permanent residents qualify for the Family Based 2A category;
- unmarried adult children of permanent residents qualify for the Family Based 2B category;
- married children of U.S. citizens qualify for the Family Based 3rd preference category;
- and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens over 21 years of age qualify for the Family Based 4th preference category.
For some of these categories there is a shortage of visas under the annual quotas and a long waiting period may be required until permanent resident status can be granted and the person issued a "green card". In many cases a petition must first be filed with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in order to establish a priority date under the quota system.
A new law allows aliens in the United States, even those here illegally, to apply at the local District Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, once their priority date under the quota has been reached.
Remember, this is very general information and should not be used to plan your case. Please seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in this area of law.