The primary way that most foreign nationals obtain permanent residence or a green card is through the sponsorship of a family member – a parent, a sibling, a spouse or even a child. While some of these relationships qualify a foreign national for an immediate green card, others require lengthy waits to obtain permanent residence.
U.S. citizens, who are married to, or intend to marry, a foreign national are able to take advantage of a relatively fast route to a green card. A foreign national who is outside the United States will need to go be processed for their green card abroad, going through what is known as “consular processing.” This can take many months, requires the collection of various documents, and results in an immigrant visa interview at the U.S. consulate in his or her home country.
Regardless of which process is followed, to obtain permanent resident status, the couple must demonstrate to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the marriage is “bona fide” or real. Fraudulent marriages solely for the purpose of obtaining a green card are illegal and can get both the immigrant and the U.S. spouse in a lot of trouble.
Green card holders may also sponsor a spouse for permanent residence by following a similar process, however, there are a limited number of visas available for people in this category each year. Thus, there can be a long wait for either a visa to become available, or for their spouse to become a U.S. citizen.
A U.S. citizen that is 21 or older can sponsor a parent for green card status. The citizen child must file an immigrant petition with USCIS. There is no waiting list for a visa in this category. If the parent resides overseas, consular processing will be required and the parent will be interviewed at the U.S. consulate in their home country. USCIS will require proof that the parent and child are related, and in some instances DNA testing may be required.
Non-citizen children of a U.S. citizen can also be sponsored for permanent residence. Faster processing is available to children who are unmarried and under the age of 21 as there is no waiting list for a visa in this category. Citizens can sponsor “adult” children (i.e., age 21 or older), both those who are married, and unmarried, however, there is a waiting list for a green card in this category and the waits can be very long. Green card holders can also sponsor their unmarried children of any age, but there are waiting lists for both minor children (under 21) and adult children.
A U.S. citizen can sponsor a brother or sister for a green card. However, this category is subject to a waiting list, and the waiting time is exceedingly long, typically more than 10 years.
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