Each year, the USCIS issues up to 480,000 family-based green cards. To be eligible for a family-based green card, an immigrant must be sponsored by a relative who is either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Similar to employment-based green cards, these visas are issued based upon a system that establishes priorities depending upon the immigrant's relationship to her sponsor. Needless to say, physicians are granted no more (or no less) of a preference under this system.
The top priority is given to immediate relatives defined as “children, spouses and parents” of U.S. citizens. There is no numerical limit to the number of green cards issued for immediate relatives each year. Rather, they are deducted from the overall cap of 480,000 per year. In fact, each year, more than 200,000 immigrants receive green cards as immediate relatives. In order, the four remaining preference levels are:
- Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (1st Preference), including children of these sons and daughters. Annually, approximately 23,400 green cards are reserved for these relatives
- Spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents (2nd Preference). This is, by far, the largest category of family-based green card recipients. Of the green cards allocated to these persons, 77% are allocated to spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. The remaining 23% are allocated to unmarried sons and daughters 21 years or older.
- Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (3rd Preference), including children of these sons and daughters. Approximately 23,400 annual visas are reserved for these relatives.
- Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens (4th Preference), including children of these brothers and sisters. Approximately 65,000 annual visas are reserved for these relatives.
Caveat for Former J-1 Physicians: Physicians who received a J-1 waiver must complete the entire three years of required medical service before they can apply for adjustment of status (Form I-485) or consular processing. This applies even to physicians married to U.S. citizens. For example, let's suppose that a physician began his three-year service for his J-1 waiver on January 1, 2016 in August 6, 2016. Nevertheless, the physician may not apply for adjustment of status or consular processing until January 1, 2019; the end of his three-year J-1 waiver service.
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