Green Cards through Family Relationship

The US government provides a yearly minimum of around 226,000 family-based immigrant visas, which are divided into two main categories, immediate relatives and family preferences. The family preference category is further subdivided into five preference categories.

Quotas: All family preference categories except for immediate relatives are limited by the 226,000 annual quota. After the annual quota is reached for a certain category, there is a waiting period to process the remaining visa applicants. These waiting periods are listed below.

The Application Process: Both categories require a two-part filing: a petition filing with the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) or the U.S. consulate in one's home country, and, once the petition has been approved, a visa application. Exception: Immediate relatives living in the U.S. may file both parts at the same time.

Applicants may apply either in the U.S. or at the U.S. consulate in their home country. Filings in a third country may prove difficult unless the applicant's home country lacks diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Immediate Relatives


Quota: None
Who is Eligible:

  • Spouses of US citizens
  • Widows/Widowers of US Citizens; must have been married to the deceased for at least two years and be widowed within two years of the application
  • Unmarried people under the age of 21 with at least one US citizen parent
  • Parents of US Citizens, if the citizen child is over the age of 21
  • Adopted children of US Citizens where the formal adopting relationship occurred before the child's 16th birthday
  • Stepchildren or stepparents of US Citizens where the family relationship began before the stepchild's 18th birthday

Important News: Immediate relatives waiting on the status of their green card applications may now apply for a temporary "K" visa which will allow them to live and work in the U.S. while waiting for their application to be processed. This visa must be issued outside the U.S.

  Family preference categories:
Family First Preference:
Quota: 23,400 plus any unused 4th preference visas
Waiting Period: 2 years for all countries except the Philippines (11 years) and Mexico (4-5 years)
Who is Eligible: unmarried people with at least one US citizen parent
Family Second Preference:

Quota: 114,200 plus any unused 1st preference visas (and no less than 77% to 2A)
Waiting Period: 4 years for 2A, 6 years for 2B
Who is Eligible:
2A: Spouses of green-card holders and unmarried children under 21 of green-card holders
2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (over 21 years) of green-card holder

Family Third Preference:
Quota: 23,400 plus any unused 2nd preference visas
Waiting Period: At least three years for all countries except the Philippines (11 years) and Mexico (4-5 years)
Who is Eligible:
Married children of US Citizens
Family Fourth Preference:

Quota: 65,000 plus any unused 3rd preference visas
Waiting Period: Ten years for all countries except the Philippines (19 years)
Who is Eligible:
Siblings of US Citizens where the US Citizen is at least 21 years old

Fiancé(e) of a US Citizen:

Category: K-1 Visa (temporary)
Quotas: none
Limitations: this nonextendible, temporary visa lasts only 90 days. It is used primarily to bring a fiancé(e) into the country. Although it can be easily converted into a green card after marriage, this visa may take as long as eight months to obtain. It may be faster to apply for a green card after the marriage in the immediate relative category.



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