Immigration Visas

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Primarily, there are two ways of obtaining permanent residency in the United States.

Family Based Immigration:

Family-based immigration of spouses, relatives, and dependents involves a multi-step process. First, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") approves an immigrant visa petition for an alien relative, which must be accompanied by proof of the relationship. Delays are common, and petitioning relatives are encouraged to begin the process as soon as possible in order to establish the foreign national relative's place in line for an immigrant visa, even if the petition may not be decided for some time. Once an immigrant visa number is available to him or her, if the foreign national relative is already in the U.S., he or she may apply to adjust status to lawful permanent resident. If the foreign national relative is outside the U.S. and an immigrant visa becomes available, he or she must go to a U.S. consulate servicing his or her area of residence to apply for an immigrant visa.

Eligibility to sponsor a relative to immigrate to the United States includes a number of issues. For example, the sponsor must prove that he or she is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and that he or she can support the relative at 125% above the mandated poverty guideline. Relationships potentially eligible for immigration through sponsorship by a U.S. citizen include a spouse, parents, siblings and children. Relationships potentially eligible for immigration through sponsorship by a lawful permanent resident include a spouse, unmarried children (under 21 years old) and unmarried sons or daughters (21 years or older).

Family members who wish to immigrate to the U.S. are classified into categories based on the preference system. At the top of the list are immediate relatives of adult U.S. citizens, including parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21. The remaining categories of relatives must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available under the following preference categories:

First Preference

Unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens 21 years of age or older.

Second Preference

Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under 21), and the unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.

Third Preference

Married sons and daughters of adult U.S. citizens.

Fourth Preference

Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.

Employment Based Immigration:

Obtaining permanent residence (a "green card") through employment is a multi-step process. First, USCIS must approve an immigrant petition, which is usually filed by an employer on behalf of the applicant. Second, an immigrant visa from the Department of State must be available, even if the applicant is already in the United States. Some immigrant visa categories are subject to an annual quota that limits the number of individuals who can be granted lawful permanent residence in any one fiscal year (from October 1 through September 30).

Even if USCIS approves an immigrant visa petition, a visa number may not be available immediately. In some cases, given that visa availability under the annual quota is limited by country of birth and by visa preference category, several years may pass between the time the immigrant visa petition is approved and the time a visa number becomes available. Third, if the applicant is already in the U.S., he or she may apply to adjust to permanent resident status after a visa becomes available. Applicants outside the U.S. when an immigrant visa becomes available must go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to complete processing.

In most employment-based categories, a labor certification application must be approved by the U.S. Department of Labor before a U.S. employer can file an immigrant petition for a foreign worker. Eligibility requirements vary depending on the type of work to be performed and the qualifications of the foreign worker. There are five categories of employment-based immigrant visas:

First Preference

Applicants with Extraordinary Ability EB-1(a);
Outstanding Researcher/Outstanding Professors EB-1(b); and
Managers and Executive Transferees EB-1(c).

Second Preference

Professionals holding an advanced degrees; and
Baccalaureate degree holders with at least five years progressive experience in the profession.

Third Preference

Skilled Workers, Professionals holding Baccalaureate Degrees and other Workers.

Fourth Preference

Workers in Religious occupation or vocation; and
Other special immigrants.

Fifth Preference

Immigrant visa based on investment and job creation.

Permanent Residence, Immigrant Visa Processing, Permanent residency in the United States, Family Based Immigration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Foreign national relative, U.S. consulate servicing, U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, Sponsorship by a U.S. citizen, Relationships potentially eligible for immigration, Immediate relatives of adult U.S. citizens, USCIS must approve an immigrant petition, Employment Based Immigration, Immigrant visa petition, U.S. Department of Labor, Outstanding Researcher, Outstanding Professors, Workers in Religious occupation or vocation

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