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Part II. United States Approach to Family Reunification

In the United States family-based immigration is dependent both on the immigration status of the sponsor and the familial relationship of the prospective immigrant to the sponsor.  The immigration of “immediate relatives” of a United States citizen (USC) is not subject to any annual visa numerical limits.[1]  Immediate relatives are defined as: (1) spouses and minor (under twenty-one years of age), unmarried children of a USC; (2) parents of USCs who are “at least 21 years of age”; and (3) widows, widowers, and children of deceased USCs.[2]

Those immigrating via the other family-based immigration processes are subject to the overall cap on family immigration, which currently allows up to 480,000 individuals per year.[3]  There are four “preference categories” for family-sponsored immigrants, each with their own numerical limitations: (1) unmarried sons and daughters of USCs; (2) spouses and adult, unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents of the United States (LPRs); (3) married sons and daughters of USCs; and (4) brothers and sisters of adult USCs (over twenty-one years of age).[4]  In addition to the preference category limit, non-immediate relative family-sponsored immigrants are also subject to the general per-country limit, which states that the number of immigrant visas made available to a country in each fiscal year will not “exceed 7% (in the case of a single foreign state) or 2% (in the case of a dependent area) of the total number of such visas made available under such subsections in that fiscal year.”[5] 

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Global Legal Research Directorate Staff
July 2014

[3] Id. § 1151(c).  To determine the number of non-immediate relative family-sponsored immigrants allowed each year, subtract from 480,000 the number of immediate relative immigrants from the year before (up to 254,000) and the number of individuals paroled into the United States for at least a year.  The minimum number of family-sponsored immigrants each year is currently set at 226,000.  Id.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020