HORITSU.COM :: The US Immigration Laws



United States immigration laws have traditionally favored family reunification. As a result, family relationships are one of the most common ways foreign nationals are able to obtain a U.S. green card. This section will briefly explain why some people have to wait longer than other people to get a green card, the qualifying relationships for a green card, and the general procedure of setting up the green card interview in the United States or Japan.

Why do some people wait longer than others?
The US Immigration laws create two categories of family members: immediate relatives and family- based preference relatives. Immediate relatives are not subjected to quotas, and therefore their cases are always current. Preference relatives, on the other hand, are subjected to quotas, and are assigned a "priority date," which is the date your family sponsor filed your petition with the Immigraiton and Natualization Service. People with priority dates cannot obtain a green card until their priority date is current.

It is impossible to predict exactly how long it will take before a priority date is current. It is kind of like having a ticket to see a movie, but you do not know how many people are ahead of you in the line, how many people the movie theater holds, and how long the movie lasts. To monitor the movement of priority dates you may call the State Department Visa Information line at (202) 663- 1541 or refer to the Visa Bulletin . This information is updated monthly.



Who qualifies as an immediate relative?
The term "immediate relative" means the following:
  1. children of a US citizen
  2. the spouse of a US citizen
  3. the parents of a US citzen who is at least 21 years of age
  4. the widow or widower alien (and each child of the alien) who:
    • was the spouse of a US citizen for at least 2 years at the time of the citizen's death
    • was not legally separated from the US citizen at the time of the citizen's death
    • has filed a new widow/widower petition within 2 years of the US citizen's death, and
    • has not remarried

The term "child" generally means an unmarried person under 21 years of age who is

  1. a child born in wedlock
  2. a stepchild, whether or not born out of wedlock, provided the child had
  3. not reached the age of 18 years at the time the marriage creating the status of stepchild occurred;
  4. a child adopted while under the age of 16 years if the child has been in the legal custody of , and has resided with, the adopting parent or parents for at least 2 years,
  5. a child, under the age of 16 at the time a petition is filed in his behalf to accord a classification as an immediate relative who is an orphan.

Who qualifies as a preference relative?
Preference relatives include the following:

  • First preference: Unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens. Once a child becomes 21 years of age the law converts that person into a son or daughter.
  • Second preference:
    1. Spouses and Children of Legal Permanent Residents
    2. Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Legal Permanent Residents
  • Third preference: Married Sons and Daughters of US citizens
  • Fourth preference: Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens. An adult citizen



My husband, who currently has a green card, filed a relative petition for me a few years ago. What happens to that approved petition if he becomes a US citizen before my priority date becomes current?

Your status would automatically be converted to immediate relative. There is usually no need to re-file the relative petition. You can immediately go to the step of setting up the green card interview.

What if I am a battered spouse or child and my qualifying relative will not sponsor me?

On September 13, 1994 Congress passed a law that allows battered spouses and children to sponsor themselves for a green card if they are living in the United States. The intent of the law is to limit the ability of an abusive citizen or green card holder to use the US Immigration laws to perpetuate further violence against a spouse or child residing in the US. For additional information click here.

Who does not qualify as an immediate relative or preference relative?

Grandparents, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins, an in-laws do not qualify as either immediate relatives or preference relatives.


If the relative who wants the green card is in the United States, and is either
  1. an immediate relative or
  2. a preference relative with a current priority date,

he or she may be eligible to apply to the US Immigration and Naturalization Serive for a green card interview through a process called "adjustment of status." The laws regarding adjustment of status have recently changed. To determine whether or not you may be eligible for adjustment of status it is recommended that you contact an US Immigration attorney. Applicants who apply for adjustment of status are eligible to apply for work permission and international travel permission ("advance parole") while their case is being processed. In Los Angeles it is currently taking approximately 15 to 17 months for green card interviews.

For LOS ANGELES DISTRICT handouts related to adjustment of status, click here.




The first step in setting up a green card interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate overseas is to have a green card relative petition (INS Form I-130) approved by the INS. If the person sponsoring the alien for the green card (the petitioner) lives in the United States he/she must mail it to the INS regional service centers responsible for that area. If the petitioner lives in Japan he/she may submit it at the embassy or consulate responsible for the location he/she lives. The embassy/consulate will forward the INS petition to the INS.


After a green card petition is approved by the INS it is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The NVC processes all approved immigrant visa petitions and holds on to them until the appliants priority date is about to become current. When an applicant's case is about to become current (a visa is likely to be available within the year) the case is forwarded to the appropriate U.S. embassy or consulate overseas. At the same time the NVC will send the green card applicant "Packet 3." Packet 3 consists of both forms and document checklists. Most of Packet 3 can be downloaded from the NVC home page under "FORMS." The instructions included in Packet 3 are reproduced here.


After a green card applicant returns to the embassy/consulate the signed statement indicating that he/she has all of the required documents indicated in Packet 3, the embassy/consulate will send the green card applicant "Packet 4." Packet 4 includes a green card appointment (usually within a couple months) and information about obtaining a medical exam prior to the appointment.

Usually an immigrant visa (green card visa) will be issued the same day as the interview. That visa will be valid for 6 months. It is important that the green card applicant travel to the United States prior to the expiration of this visa. Entering the United States will "trigger" the INS to send you a plastic green card. At the airport the INS will stamp a temporary green card valid for one year into your passport. The temporary green card affords the legal permanent resident all of the privileges (such as employment and travel) as the plastic green card.



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