On average, the United States offers 226,000 family based immigrant visas a year. Visas are typically sorted into two main categories: family preferences and immediate relatives. The family preference category is then further broken down into five other preference categories.
All family preference categories are limited by the 226,000 quota, with the exception of immediate relatives. Once the quota is reached, there is a waiting period to process other visas. This is a complex area of immigration law and it is best to consult with an immigration attorney for assistance in navigating the system.
Both of the categories require a two part filing. Part one is a petition with INS or a US Consulate. Once the petition is approved, part two involves filing a visa application. Immediate relatives living in the US can file both parts at once.
Immediate relatives may be spouses of US citizens, widowers or widows, unmarried individuals under 21 with one US parent, adopted children of US citizens and stepchildren or stepparents of US citizens. Immediate relatives waiting for a green card have the opportunity to apply for a temporary K visa that will let them work and live in the US while they are waiting for their application to be processed.