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One method to obtaining lawful permanent residency is through a relative who is either a citizen of the US or a lawful permanent resident.

Unlimited family-based immigrants can be divided into two categories:
  1. Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens (IR): A spouse, widow, parent or unmarried child under the age or 21 of a U.S. citizen fall under this immediate relative category.
  2. Returning Residents (SB): Immigrants who previously lived in the U.S. under lawful permanent resident status may obtain permanent residency again as a returning resident. These individuals are asking to return to the U.S. after being abroad for more than one year, as despite their absence they did not relinquish their permanent residency.
The rest of the family immigrants fall under the preference categories.  This would mean that there is a cap or a visa number restriction falling on individuals who qualify for these categories.  The State Department’s Visa Bulletin will indicate what dates they are currently processing.  There are four preference categories for limited family-based immigration:
  1. First Preference: Unmarried children over the age of 21 of U.S. citizens.
  2. Second Preference: 2A—Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children under the age of 21, and 2B—Unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents who are 21 and older;  
  3. Third Preference: Married children of U.S. citizens;
  4. Fourth Preference: Siblings of adult U.S. citizens.
For an application through either the IR category or one of the preference categories, your relative should first submit an immigrant visa petition, I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This form should be accompanied by proof of your relationship to your relative.

Upon approval of this petition, the Department of State will determine if an immigrant visa number is available for you. Immigrant visas are always available for persons in the IR category. When a number becomes available, you may apply for an immigrant visa if you are abroad. If you are in the US, you may be able to file an Application to Register Permanent Resident or Adjust Status (Form I-485).


In order to sponsor a relative for lawful permanent residency, you must prove your immigration status – that you are a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States.  In addition, you will be required to file an Affidavit of Support form on behalf of your spouse and show that you can support your relative at 125% of the poverty guidelines.  

If you are sponsoring for a spouse, you will need to prove that the marriage is genuine and not intended for immigration purposes.  There are severe penalties for individuals who try to commit marriage fraud.  If your spouse is in the U.S. and he/she files an adjustment application, both of you will be questioned at the interview.  The immigration officer will ask questions to determine whether or not the marriage is genuine.  The types of questions and scrutiny will vary depending upon the officer’s intuition of the genuineness of the marriage.  However, you should be prepared to answer all types of questions about your marriage, how you met, your lifestyle and basic questions about each other’s families.