The Family-based immigration system

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Legally getting your family members into Texas or anywhere else in America isn’t easy. It’s more than filling out a few forms. It’s more than paying the right fees. Applying for immigration status is a complex legal process, much like a traditional legal case that is heard in court. That’s why our Austin family immigration attorneys are ready to help you through every step of the way. We serve clients across Texas and the world from our Austin office.

Who Can Immigrate Through A U.S. Citizen Or Lawful Permanent Resident Family Member?

If you are a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident, you can petition to have certain relatives come join you and the rest of your family in the United States. The immigration process will allow your family members to obtain lawful permanent resident (LPR) status – a “Green Card” – if they qualify.

As a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor these immediate relatives without having to go through a waiting period:

As a U.S. citizen, you may also petition for the following relatives, but these must wait in the preference system:

  • Adult Children, whether married or single
  • Siblings

As a Lawful Permanent Resident, you may petition for your: Spouse – Unmarried children under 21 – Unmarried children over 21 Please note that children of LPRs may not get married and still take advantage of a parent’s I-130 petition for them.

The Family Preference System

In the United States, immigration (attainment of a green card) typically requires a petition from a relative or an employer. In order to immigrate through a family member, you must demonstrate that not only are you eligible and admissible to the United States, but also that a visa (or green card) is available to you. The United States government only issues 480,000 immigrant visas to family-based immigrants each year, and whether a visa is available to you will be determined by your relationship to the petitioner, the petitioner’s immigration status, and the country of origin. Below is a chart demonstrating how the Family Preference System works in the U.S. immigration System

Category Sponsor/Petitioner Relationship Yearly Numerical Limit
Immediate Relatives U.S. Citizens (Adults) Spouses, unmarried minor children, parents No Limit
1st Preference: U.S. Citizens unmarried sons and daughters (over age 21) of United States citizens 23,400*
2APreference: Lawful Permanent Residents spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) 87,900
2B Preference Lawful Permanent Residents Adult unmarried children 26,300
3rd Preference United States citizens. married sons and daughters 23,400**
4th Preference: United States citizens brothers and sisters 65,000***
*Plus any unused visas from the 4th preference**Plus any unused visas from the 2nd preference categories ***Plus any unused visas from any other family visa category

Per Country Limits

In addition to the limits on the number of visas that may be allocated each year, the immigration law states that immigrants from no one country may exceed 7% of the total number of immigrants coming to the United States in a given year. For this reason, visa numbers are more backlogged in some countries than in others. Specifically, immigrant visas for China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines are more backlogged than the rest of the world, due to the large number of immigrants coming from those countries.

What Is A “Priority Date”?

Anyone filing a petition with the immigration service will be issued a receipt which contains the beneficiary’s “priority date.” The priority date is the date the petition was received by the service, and it is the date that determines the beneficiary’s place “in line” and, thus, when the individual can proceed with the next steps in the immigration process. When the priority date is “current,” the immigration service will notify the petitioner that it is time to move forward on the beneficiary’s case. For this reason, it is critical that petitioners keep their addresses current with the immigration service at all times.

To check the priority dates which are “current” now, and for past months’ priority dates, you may check the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin. This bulletin contains a chart of current priority dates in all preference categories for all countries. The dates noted in this chart are those that were assigned to petitions filed on or before those dates. Those individuals who have petitions with dates and categories listed in the current visa bulletin are now finally able to file their applications for resident status in the United States.

If you find this confusing, you are not alone – that’s why we are here to help. Before you begin the immigration process, speak with one of our family immigration lawyers at our Austin offices.

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