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There are usually two avenues to apply for an immigration visa. One is to apply through certain family relationships by way of Family-Based Immigration (Form I-130 petition), and the other is through your employer by way of Employment-Based Immigration (Form I-140 petition). Filing an immigration petition is simply the first step, after that, one needs to file the I-485 adjustment of status application, if the alien is in the United States, or go through immigrant visa Consular Processing at a U.S. consulate abroad, if the alien is outside the U.S. For details on Consular Processing, please click here.
To be eligible to apply for a Green Card under Family-Based Immigration, a person must be a close family member of a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident. The detailed categories are as follows:
"Immediate relatives" of a U.S. citizen refers to the parents, spouses and children (who are unmarried and under 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen can immigrate to the United States without being subject to any numerical restrictions, unlike other close family members of U.S. citizens and/or permanent residents. Once in the U.S., they can file the adjustment of status application to change their status from non-immigrant to immigrant. For detailed information on close family members of a U.S. citizen, please click on the following links:
Immigration Information for Spouses of U.S. Citizens: A person who is married to a U.S. citizen can qualify for immigration in this category.
Immigration Information for Unmarried Children under 21 year of age of U.S. Citizens.: To qualify as a "child" in this category, the person must be the son or daughter of a U.S. citizen, who is unmarried and under the age of 21. An adopted child can also qualify.
Immigration Information for Parents of U.S. Citizens: Parents of U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for permanent resident status as immediate relatives, but only if the U.S. citizen petitioner is 21 years of age or older. To qualify as a parent of a U.S. citizen, a person must meet a similar test as the one for a child, except that the citizen can be married and must be over 21 years old. This means that if the U.S. citizen is adopted, the adoption must have been finalized before the child's 16th birthday, the parent must have had legal custody of the child for two years (before or after the adoption), and the child must reside with the adoptive parent for two years (before or after the adoption); and if the U.S. citizen is a stepchild of the alien parent, the current marriage must have been taken place before the child's 18th birthday.
Other Close Family Members of U.S. Citizens: Other family members of a U.S. citizen can qualify to immigrate to the United States, but unlike immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, they are subject to a numerical limit on the immigrant visas available to them each year. These close family members of U.S. citizens are divided into several groups called "Preferences". The higher the preference, the quicker the alien will be eligible to receive a green card. For the most up to date immigrant cut-off dates, please click here. For detailed information on other close family members of a U.S. citizen, please click on the following links:
First preference: Unmarried Children over 21 year of age of U.S. Citizens: The only distinction in eligibility between a child in this category and a child who is an "immediate relative of a U.S. citizen" is that the child in this category is over 21 years old. Normally, there is a five-year waiting period before this group can file for an adjustment of status and be eligible to get his/her green card.
Third preference: Married Children of U.S. Citizens: This category is designed for the married children of U.S. citizens, regardless of their age. That means to qualify as a "child" in this category, the person must be the son or daughter of a U.S. citizen who is married. This group must wait eight years before they can be eligible to get their green card.
Fourth preference: Brothers or Sisters of U.S. Citizens: This category includes the brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. To apply for a green card for his or her brother or sister, a U.S. citizen must be 21 years of age or older. Furthermore, to qualify as a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, both the brother or sister and the U.S. citizen must have been children of the same parent. Eleven years must pass before this group can file an adjustment of status application and be eligible for a green card.
Family Members of a Permanent Resident: Spouses and unmarried children of a permanent resident can apply for green card. They are categorized as the Second Preference group of people who are eligible for immigration to the United States.
Second preference (Preference 2A): Preference 2A is for spouses or unmarried children, under the age 21, of permanent residents. To qualify as a "child" in this category, the person must be the son or daughter of a permanent resident, and must be unmarried. An adopted child can also qualify. Those in Preference 2A must wait four years before becoming eligible for a green card.
Second preference (Preference 2B): Preference 2B is set aside for unmarried children of U.S. permanent residents who are 21 years of age or older. This group needs to wait ten years before becoming eligible for their green card.
The Immigration and Nationality Act provides 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas yearly. These visas are divided among five preference categories. Most employment-based permanent residence petitions require submission of USCIS Form I-140. The USCIS provides a premium processing service for certain classifications within Form I-140, allowing petitioners to receive a decision within 15 calendar days of application for a fee of $1,225. The following is a general introduction of the five preference categories.
The First Employment-Based Preference (EB-1) is for "priority workers", including persons of extraordinary ability and outstanding professors and researchers. Priority Workers receive 28.6 percent of the annual worldwide limit (about 40,000 visas). All Priority Workers must be the beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Foreign Worker.
The Second Employment-Based Preference (EB-2) includes petitions with requests for national interest waivers (NIW). For details on the NIW, please click here; for information on the PERM Labor Certification application click here, and for information on the Labor Certification (LC) application with request for Reduction in Recruitment (RIR), please click here. This preference group has two subgroups contained within it. Professionals holding an advanced degree (beyond a baccalaureate degree), or a baccalaureate degree and at least five years progressive experience in the profession; and Persons with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business. For other information on this category, please click here.
The Third Employment-Based Preference (EB-3). This category covers “Skilled Workers, Professionals Holding Baccalaureate Degrees and Other Workers.” The Third Employment-based preference receives 28.6 percent of the yearly worldwide limit (about 40,000 annual visas), plus any unused Employment First and Second Preference visas. Please click here for information on the PERM Labor Certification (LC) application required for this category; for information on Labor Certification (LC) applications with requests for Reduction in Recruitment (RIR), please click here; and for other information on this category, please click here.
The Fourth Employment-Based Preference (EB-4) covers religious workers, certain overseas employees of the U.S. Government, former employees of the Panama Canal Company, retired employees of international organizations, certain dependents of international organization employees, and certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Please click here for details.
The Fifth Employment-Based Preference (EB-5) is for foreign investors. To qualify, an alien must invest between U.S. $500,000 and $1,000,000, depending on the unemployment rate in the geographical area, in a commercial enterprise in the United States which creates at least 10 new full-time jobs for U.S. citizens, permanent resident aliens, or other lawful immigrants, not including the investor and his or her family. For details, please click here.
The immigration petition is simply the first step in the process to becoming an immigrant or permanent resident of the United States. The next step for those aliens residing in the United States is to file a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, which is the final step in obtaining a Green Card. Once the immigrant gets his/her Green Card, they become permanent residents of the United States. More information on adjustment of status can be found by clicking here. Immigrants who are not residing in the United States must obtain their Green Card through Consular Processing. Under this method, the immigrant must go to a U.S. consulate abroad to get an immigrant visa. This process begins only once the immigrant petition has been approved and the visa number is available. For more information on Consular Processing, please click here.
(Updated 10/08/12 by NT)