In order to become a permanent resident based on a family relationship, the petitioner (US Citizen or a lawful permanent resident) must sponsor a relative-beneficiary. Not all family relationships serve as a basis for lawful permanent resident status.
The law establishes two basic categories:
Immediate Relatives: The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires proof of relationship, if you are a US citizen and would like to petition for any of the following relatives:
Husband or Wife
Unmarried child under 21 years old
Parents of US citizens (provided petitioner is at least 21 years old)
Spouses of deceased US citizens provided that they were married for 2 years at the time of the spouses' death
Preference Immigrants: Relatives being sponsored for lawful permanent residence under preference categories must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following criteria:
First Preference: unmarried sons or daughters of US citizens over 21 years of age or older
Second Preference: spouses or children lawful permanent residents (under 21), and unmarried son and daughters of lawful permanent residents.
Third Preference: married sons or daughters of US Citizens
Fourth Preference: brothers or sisters of US citizens
The process of obtaining lawful permanent residence on the basis of family relationship is comprised of three phases:
The first step the sponsor's filing of a I-130, petition for Alien Relative, which will be approved or denied by the USCIS. The petition must include proof of relationship with the beneficiary. If the petitioner is a lawful permanent resident he/she must prove to be able to support his/her relative at 125% above the mandatory poverty line by filing an Affidavit of Support
Once approved, the USCIS sends the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center, where an immigrant visa number is assigned if immediately available or if your "priority date" is current. The "priority date" is the time you have to wait for an immigrant visa ("green card") to be available which will depend on annual limits the law sets in certain visa categories, the date the petition is filed, and the number of applicants. The Visa Bulletin released monthly sets out per country priority date cutoffs that regulate the flow of immigrant visa applications for "green cards".
Only applicants who have a priority date earlier than the cut-off date may be allotted an immigrant visa or green card during the month indicated in the bulletin. The Department of State's Visa Bulletin contains information regarding the status of the beneficiary's visa number.
Once the visa number becomes available, if the beneficiary of the petition is in the US, an application for a change of status to lawful permanent residence is filed. If the beneficiary is outside of the US , Consular Processing is available at the consular post in which the beneficiary is residing.
Note that under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) battered spouses or children of US citizens or lawful permanent residents are entitled to file a self-petition in order to obtain lawful permanent residence.
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