Permanent Residency (Green Card) And Family-Based Immigration

Permanent Residency is the status given by the United States to individuals that, with a few rare exceptions, allows them to remain in the country permanently. Individuals with this status are given a Permanent Residency card (an I-551), otherwise known as a “Green Card.”

While this status is not yet citizenship, it provides the immigrant with many of the same rights, including to live and work in the U.S., travel freely to and from the U.S., obtain a Social Security number and driver’s license, and protection from deportation except in circumstances in which the immigrant has committed certain serious crimes.

The process of obtaining Permanent Residency usually involves the filing of a petition on behalf of the immigrant by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member, or a U.S. employer. Obtaining Permanent Residency through a family member is very different than obtaining it through an employer. Immigrants who are seeking Permanent Residency through a family member will either fall into an “immediate relative” category, or a “preference” category.

Immediate Relatives
Immediate relatives include married spouses of U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens who are over 21 years old, and minor, unmarried children of U.S. citizens. The immediate relative category is significant because unlike the preference categories discussed below, immediate relatives are not subject to a mandatory waiting period to receive their Green Cards once their petition is approved. Rather, once an immediate relative petition is approved, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) grants Permanent Residency immediately and sends the Green Card to the immigrant, usually within a few weeks.

The process of applying for Permanent Residency can be complicated and require great attention to detail. Applicants should be sure to file the correct forms and present proper supporting evidence. Applicants and their relatives will often have to attend an interview with a U.S. immigration officer, during which they will be asked questions about the marital relationship, and will have to present additional supporting documentation to prove that the marriage is a good faith relationship and was not entered into just for immigration benefits.

It should be noted that immigrants who seek Permanent Residency based upon marriage to a U.S. citizen when the marriage is less than two years old will be granted “Conditional Residency” status for two years. After that time, the immigrant spouse will be able to petition to remove the conditional status and convert it to Permanent Residency.

Family Preference Categories
Immigrants who qualify for Permanent Residency, but who do not fall into the three immediate relative categories described above will fit into preference categories depending on what type of family relationship they have with the petitioning relative, and which country they are from.

These preference categories were created as a result of numerical limits on the number of visas that Congress will grant each year to the different categories of immigration. When the annual limit of visas in a particular category has been reached, the applications submitted under that category are bumped to a later year, creating a backlog of pending Permanent Residency applications. Some categories are backed up for as much as 20 years!

The preference categories for family-based cases are as follows:


The waiting periods applicable to each category vary depending on the category and the immigrant’s country of origin, and may change from month to month. Below is an example of the processing status for each category:


As stated above, these processing periods may change. Therefore, the waiting period applicable to the categories shown above may be different at the time you are reading this than what is listed above. For an updated list of the current waiting times applicable to each category, you can visit the U.S. Department of State’s online visa bulletin at

Marriage Visas
The United States has provided a visa for fiancés of U.S. citizens, known as a K-1, that allows the fiancé to enter the U.S. so that the couple can get married. The process requires the U.S. citizen to petition for the immigrant fiancé and provide documentation to show, among other things, that the relationship is a valid, good faith one, and that the couple has actually met in person during the previous two years. Once the visa is approved, the immigrating fiancé will be allowed to enter the U.S. but the couple must then get married within 90 days of entry.

After getting married, the spouse can apply for a Green Card based upon her marriage to a U.S. citizen.

If approved, the immigrating spouse will be granted Conditional Residency (as described above) for two years, after which he or she will be able to apply for adjustment to Permanent Residency. The process of applying for immigrant status based upon marriage or other family relationships can be complicated and intimidating. Failure to understand and apply these laws can have serious consequences, including significant delays in processing the case, or in some cases even deportation.

The immigration attorneys at Deere Law, LLC have extensive experience helping family members understand and take advantage of U.S. immigration laws to stay together, or to be reunited. Call us today at (719) 633-3377, or email us, to find out why the immigration attorney Josh Deere at Deere Law, LLC has received an AV Preeminent® Peer Review Rating from Martindale-Hubbell®; a Superb, 10 out of 10 rating in Immigration Law, and a “Client’s Choice” award from Avvo, a national lawyer rating service; and a Colorado Springs’ TOP ATTORNEYS award by Colorado Springs Style Magazine.