Essentially there are two main classes of family based green cards. The first class is immediate relatives and includes spouses, unmarried minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens. There are no quotas for this class and no time limits beyond the time needed to process the application.
On the other hand, preference categories, the second class of family based green cards, are subject to quotas. Waiting periods are determined by the category and country of origin. These categories include:
1st Preference: Adult, unmarried children of U.S. citizens
1. Spouses and minor children of U.S. permanent residents
2. Adult, unmarried children of U.S. permanent residents
3rd Preference: Adult children of U.S. citizens (including their spouses and children)
4th Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens (including their spouses and children)
During your initial consultation, your immigration lawyer will advise you as to what class and or preference you fall under.
Due to the fact that there are a limited number of visas for each preference category, people with approved family-based petitions are not allowed to immigrate to the United States or adjust status until their priority date becomes current. Your priority date is the date your U.S. relative filed an immigrant petition on your behalf. The State Department issues a visa bulletin every month disclosing which priority dates are current. The waiting periods range from about 4 years to more than 20 years.
To begin the procedure of applying for a family based green card, the U.S. sponsor files an immigrant relative petition (I-130) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS was formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Once the petition (I-130) is approved and the priority date becomes current, the foreign relative can apply to the U.S. Consulate abroad for an immigrant visa. Alternatively, if the foreign relative is already in the U.S. legally, he or she can apply for an adjustment of status (I-485) to that of a permanent resident without having to leave the United States. Even if you are in the U.S. illegally you may be able to adjust status. This decision of whether to apply from the U.S. or leave and apply from abroad needs the careful advice and expertise of an experienced Phoenix immigration attorney.
Sponsors of all family based applicants must sign a legal document promising to support the immigrant financially if necessary. This document is known as the affidavit of support. The sponsor will have to provide income tax returns and other evidence showing that he or she has enough income to support this obligation. Your sponsor must be a resident of the U.S. at the time you immigrate.