Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens have special immigration priority. Belonging to the immediate relative category, they need not wait in line for immigrant visa numbers to become available. Spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens who belong to this category are not subject to numerical limitations.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) makes available unlimited number of visas for the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. This category includes the spouses of U.S. citizens, their children and their parents. Only the minor children, below age 21 and unmarried, belong to the immediate relatives category. Similarly, only those U.S. citizens who are above the age of 21 can sponsor their parents.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who are abroad can obtain permanent resident status (green card status) through consular processing. In this case, USCIS will work with the U.S. Department of State and issue immigrant visas, once the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative filed on their behalf is approved. They can travel to the U.S. as legal permanent residents with those immigrant visas.
In case the beneficiaries of immigrant petitions are in the U.S. as non-immigrants, they can go through the adjustment of status process. They can adjust their status to immigrant status through this process and need not return to their home countries to get immigrant visas. To adjust their status, they need to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status concurrently while their sponsors file Form I-130 for them.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are likely to get their green cards within one year from the date on which their sponsors file Form I-130 for them. USCIS processes the immigrant petitions filed for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens faster in order to promote family unity. This special immigration priority is only meant for the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and not for the other categories of relatives.
U.S. citizens can also sponsor their brothers or sisters, married children and children above age 21, but such relatives belong to the family preference categories that are subject to numerical limitations. They need to wait for a long time to get immigrant visas as immigrant visa numbers for relatives in preference categories are limited.