United States citizens and legal permanent residents can sponsor close family members, including parents, spouses, children and brothers and sisters.
Marriage to a US Citizen
If you are in the United States, married to a US citizen, and were inspected when you entered the country, you may qualify for a green card based on your marriage. The process, called “adjustment of status,” is relatively quick, with processing times depending on the local field office. In Boston, it is currently taking about 4-6 months from the time of filing to the interview and approval.
If you are outside the United States and married to a US citizen, you must apply for a visa at the US consulate in your country. The length of the process depends on the schedule of the consulate, but is about 9-12 months for most countries. There is a K-3 visa which was designed to speed up the process, but which in practice does not save much time.
If you are outside the United States and plan to marry a US citizen, you can file for a K-1 visa as a fiance. The K-1 visa usually saves a couple of months over the immigrant visa process, but it requires further paperwork once the fiance has entered the United States.
If you have been married less than two years at the time you obtain your permanent residence, you will be granted conditional permanent residence which expires after 2 years. In the 3-month period before the card expires, you will need to file an I-751 petition to remove the conditions.
USCIS publishes its estimated processing times online. Take them with a grain of salt.
Parents and Minor Children of US Citizens
Parents and minor children of US citizens can also gain permanent residence quickly through the family relationship. The processing times are the same as for spouses of US citizens.
Other Family Relationships
For other family relationships, there is no visa available immediately for permanent residence, so there is a wait between filng the I-130 family petition and the application for permanent residence (form I-485 or immigrant visa processing). The amount of time depends on the relationship:
|Preference||Relationship||Approximate Wait Time (Years)|
|F1||single child over 21 of USC||6-8|
|F2A||minor child of LPR||4-5|
|F2B||single child over 21 of LPR||7-9|
|F3||married child of USC||9-11|
|F4||brother or sister of USC||10-12|
|USC = US citizen; LPR = legal permanent resident|
The Visa Bulletin put out by the Department of State lists the dates of the petitions that are currently receiving visas in each category. When your priority date (the date you filed the I-130 petition) becomes current, then you can apply for an immigrant visa or adjustment of status.
Note that these are the only family relationships that qualify for petitioning. You cannot file directly for your grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., although spouses and minor children may be included as dependents on the petitions listed above.