Family-Based Permanent Residence

Information for non citizens

What is a lawful permanent resident?

A lawful permanent resident is a foreign national who immigrates to the United States and is authorized to live and work here permanently.

What do the family-based preference categories mean?

If you are classified as an immediate relative, then a visa number is immediately available to you.  If you are in one of the family-sponsored preference categories then you must check the Visa Bulletin to see if your priority date is current because there is a limited number of immigration visas issued in these categories each year.  If it is, then a visa number should be available to you.

How do I know what preference category (IR, F1-F4) I am in?

If you are:

  • a parent of a U.S. citizen who is 21 years of age or older
  • a spouse of a U.S. citizen
  • a child of a U.S. citizen and are under 21 years of age and unmarried
  • a spouse of a deceased U.S. citizen, if at the time of the citizen's death the couple had been married at least two years and were not legally separated,

     then you are in the immediate relative category (IR).



If you are:
  • an unmarried adult son or daughter of a U.S. citizen ('adult' means 21 years of age or older)

   then you are in the first family-sponsored preference category (F1).



If you are:
  • a spouse of a lawful permanent resident
  • an unmarried child of a lawful permanent resident

   then you are in the second family-sponsored preference category (F2A and F2B).



If you are:
  • a married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen

   then you are in the third family-sponsored preference category (F3).



If you are:
  • a brother or sister of adult U.S. citizen if the U.S. citizen is age 21 or older.

   then you are in the fourth family-sponsored preference category (F4).



Do I have to be in the United States to apply for permanent residence?

No.  If you are outside the United States, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will notify the petitioning family member when the petition is approved.  The USCIS will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC), where it will remain until an immigrant visa becomes available to you.  You only need to contact the NVC to notify them of a change of address or any significant change that may affect your family preference category or eligibility for immigrant visa, such as reaching age 21, marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse.

If you are in the United States, the USCIS will notify the petitioning family member when the petition is approved.  The USCIS will not notify you when a visa number becomes available.  You will need to check the Department of State's visa bulletin, which is issued every month, to see when your priority date will be current and an immigrant visa becomes available to you.

Do I have to be in the United States to become a permanent resident?

No.  If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available to you, you will be notified to go to the local U.S. consulate to complete the processing for an immigrant visa.

If you are in the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available to you, and you are otherwise eligible, you may apply to adjust your status to permanent resident without leaving the United States.  To do this, you file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status-with supplemental forms and supporting documents.

How do I know whether I am eligible to adjust to permanent resident status without having to leave the United States?

For most people, to be eligible to adjust your status within the United States, you must have maintained lawful status continually since your last admission into the United States.  There are two exceptions.  You may be able to adjust your status even if you have certain immigration violations, such as working without authorization or overstaying your visa if: (1) there was a petition filed for you prior to April 30, 2001, you may be able to take advantage of an old law (245i); or, (2) if you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.  See a counselor at one of our immigration centers to find out if this law applies to you.

When is my immigrant visa number set?

The date on which the USCIS receives the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative is called your "priority date." This is the date to which you will refer to see whether there is an immigrant visa available to you.  Please see the section on preference categories and the immigrant visa quota system.

What happens if I am here without permission and I try to adjust my status?

If you are in the United States without permission (undocumented), and a petition was filed on your behalf after April 30, 2001, you are not eligible to adjust your status while in the United States.  You may be able to return to your home country to process your paperwork through the U.S. consulate there, but speak with an attorney before doing so.

BEWARE: if you have overstayed your visa or you entered the United States without inspection, and you leave the United States for any reason (even for a visa interview), you may face a severe penalty! A person who is in the United States without government authorization for more than 180 days is barred for 3 years from returning to the United States once they leave.  If the unlawful presence is longer than one year, the person is barred for 10 years from returning to the United States once they leave.  Waivers are available, but they are very difficult to get.