"Immediate Relatives" of a U.S. Citizen
"Immediate Relatives" refers to the parents, spouses and children (who are unmarried and under 21 years of age) of a U.S. citizen. Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen can immigrate to the United States without being subject to any numerical restrictions, unlike other close family members of U.S. citizens and/or permanent residents. Other close family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents are divided into several groups called "Preferences". Each Preference is given a numerical quota per year to limit the number of immigrants admitted into the United States.
Spouses of U.S. Citizens
If a person is the spouse of a U.S. citizen and the marriage occurred less than two years before the alien spouse is admitted as a U.S. permanent resident, a "conditional green card" is issued to the alien spouse. That means the alien spouse's permanent resident status may be subject to be terminated within two years after it is granted, if the marriage has terminated by divorce or annulment during that period.
In order to remove the condition on the alien spouse's permanent residency, both spouses need to jointly petition to remove the condition within 90 days before the second anniversary of the alien spouse's admission as a permanent resident. Failure to do so will result in the termination of the alien spouse's conditional permanent residence.
Unmarried Children under 21 year of age of U.S. Citizens.
To qualify as a "child" in this category, the beneficiary must be the son or daughter of a U.S. citizen, who is unmarried and under the age of 21. An adopted child qualifies as long as the adoption was finalized before the child's 16th birthday; the adoptive parents have legal custody of the child for two years (before or after the adoption); and the child resides with the adoptive parents for two years (before or after the adoption). A step-child qualifies as long as the marriage had occurred before the stepchild's 18th birthday. [INA 101 (b)(1), (b)(1)(B)]
Parents of U.S. Citizens
The Parents of U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for permanent resident status as immediate relatives, but only if the citizen is 21 years of age or older. To qualify as a parent of a U.S. citizen, a person must meet the similar test as for the child, except that the citizen can be married and must be over 21 years old. This means that if the U.S. citizen is adopted, the adoption must have been finalized before the child's 16th birthday, the parent must have legal custody of the child for two years (before or after the adoption), and the child must reside with the adoptive parent for two years (before or after the adoption); and if the U.S. citizen is a stepchild of the alien parent, the current marriage must have been taken place before the child's 18th birthday. [INA 101 (b)(1), (b)(1)(B)]
Please note that the father-in-law and mother-in-law of a U.S. citizen are not "parents" of the U.S. citizen for immigration purposes.
Other Close Family Members of a U.S. Citizen
Other close family members of a U.S. citizen can qualify to immigrate to the United States, but unlike the immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, they are subject to a numerical limit of immigrant visas available to them each year. Close family members are divided into several groups called "Preferences". The higher the Preference, the quicker the alien will be eligible to receive a green card. For detailed information on other close family members of a U.S. citizen, please click on the following links:
Family Members of Permanent Residents
Spouses and unmarried children of a permanent resident can also apply for a green card. They are categorized as the “Second Preference” group of people who are eligible for immigration to the United States. For detailed information on spouses and/or children of permanent residents, please click on the following link:
Same-Sex Marriage & Immigration
On June 26, 2013; the United States Supreme Court held in United States v. Windsor that the federal interpretation of ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ as legislated in Section 3 of ‘DOMA’ to that of strictly heterosexual unions was unconstitutional because it denied legally married same-sex couples their due process under the Fifth Amendment. This landmark decision effectively opened the door for married same-sex couples to be recognized by the federal government and thus to receive federal benefits that are also conferred to opposite-sex married couples; including the privilege for US Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents to sponsor their foreign born spouses for immigration to the United States.