Immigration Law 101: Citizenship Through Family

US Citizenship Through Family Members? Am I Eligible?

The first question you should ask if you can file for U. S. citizenship through family members is: “Is your family member an ‘immediate relative’?” So what constitutes ‘Immediate relative’? This includes a spouse, unmarried children below 21 years old, and parents. Immediate relatives of U. S. citizens have a much quicker and easier time securing their visa.

Family preference category

The family preference category is applicable if a U. S. citizen sponsors a family member that is not considered an immediate relative. Eligible relatives are the married children, unmarried children over 21 years old, and brothers and sisters (only applicable for U. S. citizen petitioners over 21 years old).

There is a limit to the number of relatives who are approved for this category. Usually, the relatives will need to wait for an available immigrant visa.

Acquiring a green card while in the United States

If the U. S. citizen’s relative who belongs to the family preference category sponsorship is living in the United States, there are a few steps that can be done to become a permanent resident. First, your relative that is a U.S. citizen files a form for you (Petition for Alien Relative) and has it approved. You must then wait for the priority date in the immigrant visa category to be listed as ‘current’. Once it is ‘current’,  you can file for Adjustment of Status to become a permanent resident.

Getting a green card while outside the United States

If the relative is currently outside the United States, there is a chance to become a permanent resident through consular processing. In this process, you need to work with the U.S. Department of State to issue a visa if the petition form has already been approved. Once a visa is issued, permanent residency (Green Card) is then officially given upon reaching a U. S. port of entry.

Few more things to remember

  • The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA). In some cases, an immediate relative who is over 21 years old may still be classified as “child” by the CSPA . Generally, once a U.S. citizen parent files the form for petition, the age of the child is “frozen”.


  • Getting Married. An unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen who married before becoming a permanent resident is not anymore qualified as “Unmarried Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen,” and will be moved to the category suited for him or her, the “Married Son or Daughter of a U.S. Citizen.” The change in categories will mean a delay in the release of an immigrant visa. If this happens, always notify the USCIS of any updates on the status.

Obtaining a citizenship through family member who is a U.S. citizen is possible and though it may take time, approval is eventually given. You will need an experienced immigration and naturalization attorney in order to expedite the process. As long as you are eligible and you follow all the procedures properly, then you stand a good chance of becoming a U. S. citizen.

If you possess a green card for permanent or conditional residency, part of the rules include living as a permanent resident in the United States legally for five years before you can apply for naturalization and become a U. S. citizen.

For example: If you are approved for permanent residence and given a green card on May 30, 2011, you will be qualified to file for a U. S. citizenship on May 30, 2016. The exact date you will be eligible for citizenship can be found on your permanent resident green card.

If you acquire your permanent residency status A.K.A Green Card through marriage to an American citizen or by having a business/investor visa, you start with a conditional residency status instead of as a permanent resident. However, the two years conditional residency is considered permanent residency as long as you acquire permanent residency after two years.

However, the immigration law has a few exceptions that may reduce the length of time to wait for eligibility to U. S. citizenship. Relatives of someone who is connected to or has worked with the Armed Forces have their own rules for applying U. S. citizenship. The following are exceptions that civilians can use when filing for reduction of the amount of time to wait:

1.  90-day early application

Despite the basic rule of five years permanent residency, you can actually file for an early naturalization application within 90 days before the day of the start of the fifth year. If you time it right, you can be eligible for the 90-day early application rule.

The procedure is that you send your application form (N-400) provided by the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by mail. USCIS takes a long time to attend to the application. It may even take 90 days after for them to call you for fingerprinting or for interview schedule. Other processes that may delay your application are the tests your English fluency and knowledge of the U. S. government.  It can also take some time to approve or turn down your application.

2. Marriage to a U. S. Citizen

If you were once a conditional or permanent resident that married or lived with a U. S. citizen, you only need to wait three more years before you can apply for citizenship. If you got a green card because you had an employer and then married a U. S. citizen, you still need to wait three years after the marriage date before applying for citizenship.

However, you have to keep the marriage through the interview for citizenship. The exception is lost upon separation with spouse or death of spouse before your scheduled naturalization interview.
There are exceptions such as battered spouses of American citizens who were granted VAWA protection; refugees are given partial exception; and spouses of U.S. citizens in some overseas jobs.

For more details on these, an naturalization immigration lawyer can assist you by explaining the Immigration Law and assessing your qualifications as well as giving professional help to ensure the whole process progresses smoothly and keep you informed on your status.

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