U.S. citizens can file I-130 Petitions for spouses, children, parents, and siblings. U.S. citizens can also file I-129F Petitions for fiancés. To petition for a parent, a U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years old. Lawful permanent residents can file I-130 Petitions for spouses and unmarried children. Special rules apply to adopted children and step-children.
There are quotas on the number of immigrant visas (“green cards”) that are issued each year in certain family-based categories. Because there are insufficient green cards available for everyone who applies, there is a waiting list for certain family-based categories. The first step to be placed on the waiting list is to file an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. Once the priority date becomes current, the applicant can take the next step toward getting his/her green card.
There are no quotas for the following relatives: spouses of U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens, and children under 21 years old of U.S. citizens.
For all other relatives, there are quotas. There are four family-based preference categories:
1st preference: unmarried sons and daughters (21 and older) of U.S. citizens
2A preference: spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of lawful permanent residents
2B preference: unmarried sons and daughters (21 and older) of lawful permanent residents
3rd preference: married sons and daughters (21 and older) of U.S. citizens
4th preference: brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens
Relatives who fall within these preference-based categories must wait for their priority date to become current before they can apply for their green cards. Each month, the U.S. Department of State publishes the visa bulletin, which shows the priority dates that are current in each category for that month. The priority date is generally the date that the I-130 Petition was filed.