You were a lawful permanent resident, but now you are a U.S. citizen. While you were a lawful permanent resident, did you file a petition to bring your spouse or children to the U.S.? If so, you may have been told that your petition was “family second preference.” Family preference visas for lawful permanent residents are limited in number. If there are no more visas when the limit is reached, your family members will have to wait.

Now that you’re a citizen, if you are at least 21 years old, you can upgrade your spouse and child petitions from a family preference visa to an “immediate relative” visa. These immigrant visas are available to the spouses, unmarried children under 21, adopted orphans and parents of U.S. citizens. They are often more desirable because there is currently no limitation on the number of visas issued each year.

The first step in upgrading your visa petitions from “family second preference” to “immediate relative” is to submit proof of your naturalization to the National Visa Center (NVC). This can be either a copy of the biodata page of your U.S. passport or your certificate of naturalization.

Once you have submitted proof of naturalization, the NVC will upgrade your petitions for your spouse and unmarried sons or daughters aged 21 or older.

You must submit new, separate petitions for each minor child

It is critical to note that petitions for the minor children of U.S. citizens are processed differently than those for the minor children of lawful permanent residents. As a lawful permanent resident, you could include your minor children as “derivative applicants” on the petition for your spouse. Minor children cannot be derivative applicants on a petition for an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. Instead, you must file an individual petition for each child.

Also note: Any children born after you became a citizen may qualify for citizenship, as well. Apply for a U.S. passport on their behalf and a consular officer can make the determination. Or, contact an immigration attorney for help.

Check the Visa Bulletin about the best option for your unmarried adult children

While the NVC can upgrade your visa petition for your adult children (21 and over), that may not be your best option. The law allows you to opt out of the upgrade if the wait time for “immediate relatives” is longer than for “family second preference” applicants. The Visa Bulletin or an immigration lawyer can help you decide.

Whether you are a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor family members to immigrate to the United States. Contact an immigration lawyer for assistance with the process.