What Relatives Can a U.S. Citizen Sponsor?
Updated: May 11
The following persons may be sponsored as “immediate relatives”:
The spouse, and unmarried children under 21, of a U.S. citizen
The parents of a U.S. citizen, if the citizen is 21 or older
The following persons may be sponsored under the “family preference” system:
The unmarried children, 21 or older, of a citizen
The spouses or unmarried children of a lawful permanent resident (LPR)
The married children of a citizen
The siblings of a citizen, if the citizen is 21 or older
If you are a U.S. citizen or LPR, and you sponsor these relatives, your relatives may become LPRs of the U.S. Under any of these classifications, a stepchild is considered a child of the U.S. citizen or LPR, if the stepparent married the parent before the stepchild turned eighteen.
This post is the first of a three-part series. In this part, we will discuss what relatives a U.S. citizen or LPR may sponsor. In Part 2, we will discuss how a U.S. citizen or LPR may sponsor multiple relatives. In Part 3, we will discuss what happens when a relative turns 21 while the petition is pending, and what happens if a relative marries or divorces while the petition is pending.
There are two types of family-based sponsorship in U.S. immigration law: the “immediate relative” category, and the “family preference” system. The difference between the two is: There is no limit to the number of persons who may be brought in under the “immediate relative” category. However, there is a national quota on the total number of persons, each year, who may be brought in under the “family preference” system. If you file for a relative under the “family preference” system, and the quota for the number of persons who have immigrated under the family preference system has been exceeded, your relative will have to wait in line until a spot for them opens up.
How the Family Preference Quota System Works
The Family Preference System divides relatives into the following preference categories:
F1: Unmarried children, 21 or older, of U.S. citizens;
F2A: spouses or unmarried children, under 21, of LPRs;
F2B: unmarried children, 21 or older, of LPRs;
F3: married children of U.S. citizens;
F4: siblings of a U.S. citizen, if the citizen is 21 or older.
Each category, in the family preference system, has a national quota. As of April 2020, the quotas are:
· F1: 23,400, plus any numbers not required for F4 preference
· Second preference (F2A and F2B): 224,300, plus the number, if any by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused F1 preference numbers:
77% of those admitted under Second preference must fall in the F2A category. Of these 77%, 75% are exempt from the per-country limit.
23% of those admitted under Second preference must fall in the F2B category.
· F3: 23,400, plus any numbers not required by F1, F2A, and F2B preference
· F4: 65,000, plus any number not required by the first three preferences
How long will you have to wait?
If you sponsor an immediate relative, there are no quotas. However, that doesn’t mean there is no waiting period. Because of the backlog of cases on file with the federal government, you still may have to wait six months or more, before your petition is granted.
If you sponsor a relative under the family preference system, then, because of the quota, you will have to wait significantly longer before the government grants your petition.
To get an idea as to how long your wait time might be, click on the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin. From this page, click on the bulletin for the current month.
When you read the bulletin, first ask: are you applying for adjustment of status, or are you applying for a visa? If you are applying for adjustment of status, scroll down to “Final Action Dates for Family-Sponsored Preference Cases.” If you are applying for a visa, scroll down to “Dates for Filing Family-Sponsored Visa Applications.” Then, look in the category of the preference for which you are filing, and look at your country. Then look at the date. If you filed before this date, then you are current, and your petition may be granted. If you filed after this date, you are not current, and you will have to wait longer for your petition to be granted.
To illustrate, this is the chart for “Dates for Filing Family-Sponsored Visa Applications” on the April 2020 Visa Bulletin:
In the chart above, under the F1 visa, the date listed under “China-Mainland born” is “01SEP14.” This means that, if your relative was born in mainland China, and falls under the F1 category, and you filed after September 1, 2014, you will still have to wait for your petition to be granted. If you filed before September 1, 2014, you are current, and you should not have to wait. If your relative is from Mexico, and filing under the F4 preference, you will still have to wait if you filed your petition after January 15, 1999.
To see how to file an immediate relative petition, click here.
To see how to file a petition under family preference, click here.