Immigration for Family Members

Do you have a family member who is a U.S. Citizen or a legal permanent resident/green card holder?  If so, there are many possibilities for sponsoring relatives to come to the United States.  At Compass Immigration P.A., we can assist you and your family through this complex process.  Our firm specializes in reuniting family members from throughout the world.

Did you know, that as a U.S. citizen living abroad, you may still be able to sponsor your family member?

Can my family member help me become and permanent resident and get a green card?

Family-based petitions are filed by either U.S. citizens or permanent residents.  If you or someone in your family is already a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you’ve potentially cleared one of the main hurdles to establishing sponsorship for permanent residency.

U.S. citizens must be age 21 or older to file petitions for siblings or parents.  For other categories, although there is no minimum age for a sponsor to file petitions, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) must be at least 18 years of age and have a residence (domicile) in the United States before he or she can sign an Affidavit of Support.  This form is required for an immigrant visa for a spouse and other relatives of U.S. sponsors.

Sponsors may be either U.S. citizens (by birth or naturalization) or U.S. permanent residents (green card holders).  The relatives a permanent resident can file for are not the same as the relatives for whom a U.S. citizen may file.  There are two groups of family based immigrant visa categories:  “immediate relatives” and “family preference categories”.

Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas (Unlimited):  These visa types are based on a close family relationship with a United States citizen (not a Lawful Permanent Resident).  The number of immigrants in these categories is not limited each fiscal year.  An Immediate Relative for immigration purposes is one of the following:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens (including same sex spouses)
  • Unmarried children (under 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens
  • Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen
  • Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
  • Parent of a U.S. citizen (U.S. citizen child must be at least 21 years of age)

Family Preference Immigrant Visas (Limited): These visa types are for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident.  There are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants.  Preference Category relatives for immigration purposes include the following:

  • Unmarried son or daughter (age 21 and over) of U.S. citizen, and their minor children
  • Married son or daughter (age 21 and over) of U.S. citizen, including their spouses and minor children
  • Brother or sister of U.S. citizen, including their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years of age
  • Spouses of U.S. permanent residents
  • Children of U.S. permanent residents (under 21 years)
  • Unmarried children (over 21 years) of U.S. permanent residents

U.S. citizens can file for fiancé(e)s, but not Permanent residents – however, this is a different type of process.  Fiance(e)s do not fall into any of the above mentioned categories.  Please see our page for K-1 Fiance Visas for more information.

Also, note that grandparents, aunts, uncles, neices, nephews, and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for an immigration visa.

How long does it take to become a permanent resident and get a green card?

How long the process will take can be a bit complicated as it varies widely from case to case.  For certain categories of relatives, there are annual limits on the number of individuals who can immigrate each year.

Before becoming a permanent resident/ green card holder, a sponsoring U.S. relative must begin by filing a Petition for their qualifying relative – commonly referred to as filing the form I-130.  After the I-130 petition is filed, a priority is set and the clock has begun.

Visas for Immediate Relatives are unlimited.  In other words, the priority date for an immediate relative becomes current immediately once the petition is approved.  As an Immediate Relative, you should not need to wait a long time to obtain an immigrant visa if you qualify for Family Immigration.

Preference Category relatives often face longer waiting times due to strict annual limits on permanent immigration benefits.  The length of the wait depends upon the family preference category and the country of origin.  The waiting times are sometimes months or years, but unfortunately, waiting times can sometimes be decades.

Preference category relatives cannot obtain permanent residence until their priority dates are current.  This date is updated by the U.S. Department of State each month, which is why it is important to keep track of your priority date.

Once your priority is current, you can file for an immigrant visa to come to the U.S.

 How do I get a green card?

Many immediate relative or preference category relatives will need to attend an interview at an Embassy or Consular office abroad before coming the U.S. and becoming a permanent resident and obtaining a green card.  This process is called consular processing.

Certain circumstances may permit Immediate Relatives already in the U.S. to qualify for permanent residence without the need to leave the U.S. This is called an adjustment of status.  This is common with spouses of U.S. citizens.  See our page about “Marriage Visas” for more information.  However, adjustment of status within the United States may be available to other immediate relatives.

In other circumstances, a U.S. citizen living abroad may be able to file for an immigrant visa petition outside the United States for their relative.

What can I do as a permanent resident and “green card” holder?

A permanent resident card is your legal status, work eligibility, and travel card all rolled into one.  With a permanent residence card, you are entitled to almost all of the same benefits as a U.S. citizen.  However, you cannot vote under any circumstance, or claim to be a U.S. citizen.  Eventually, if you maintain your permanent resident status long enough, you can apply for full U.S. citizenship.

What if I am not married, but I am engaged or in a serious relationship?

If your fiance is in another country, and you would like sponsor them to come to the U.S. Please see our page discussing “K-1 Fiance Visas”.


If you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident and are married to someone undocumented or have an undocumented child, contact us.  We specialize in the preparation of waivers filed overseas (the I-601 and I-212) and the provisional waiver (the I-601A).  However, just because your loved ones are in the United States undocumented doesn’t mean they need a waiver, call us for a consultation on whether your family members needs one.

Please see our page discussing “Waivers”.


If you or your spouse are in the military, there are many special rules that may apply to you.  Please see our page discussing “Military & Immigration”.

Be careful where you get your Information

Everyone seems to have information regarding family immigration, whether they are family, friends, or notarios, but it’s always safer to get your information from an immigration attorney.  Bad advice can be detrimental to your future, and the future of your loved ones.  Schedule an appointment with us today even if it’s just for information.  Family Immigration law is our focus, and we know how to protect you.