Family-Based Immigrant Visas
Two groups of family based immigrant visa categories, including immediate relatives and family preference categories, are provided under the provisions of United States immigration law, specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
I. Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas (Unlimited): These visa types are based on a close family relationship with a United States (U.S.) citizen described as an Immediate Relative (IR). Immediate relatives include the spouses, parents, and unmarried children (under 21) of U.S. citizens. Visas are always available to immediate relatives. Immediate relatives are not subject to the preference categories, noted below. The number of immigrants in these categories is not limited each fiscal year.
Immediate relative visa types include:
- IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. Citizen –
- IR-2: Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen
- IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen –
- IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen –
- IR-5: Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old
II. Family Preference Immigrant Visas (Limited): These visa types are for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). There are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants, shown at the end of each category. The family preference categories are:
- Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. (23,400)
- Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs. At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters. (114,200)
- Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children. (23,400)
- Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000)
**** Note: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.
Numerical Limitations for Limited Family-based Preference Categories
Whenever the number of qualified applicants for a category exceeds the available immigrant visas, there will be an immigration wait. In this situation, the available immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed using their priority date. The filing date of a petition becomes what is called the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached. In certain categories with many approved petitions compared to available visas, there may be a waiting period of several years, or more, before a priority date is reached. Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates. http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin.html
The First Step toward an Immigrant Visa: Filing a Petition
As the first step, a sponsoring relative must file a Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130 with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States must establish the relationship to certain alien relatives who wish to immigrate to the United States. The forms and instructions are free on the USCIS website and can be obtained from http://www.uscis.gov/i-130Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.
U.S. Sponsor Minimum Age Requirement
U.S. citizens must be age 21 or older to filepetitions for siblings or parents. There is no minimum age for a sponsor to file petitions for all other categories of family based immigrant visas. However, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) must be at least 18 years of age and have a residence (domicile) in the United States before he or she can sign an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864 or I-864-EZ. This form is required for an immigrant visa for a spouse and other relatives of U.S. sponsors.
Is Residence in the U.S. Required for the U.S. Sponsor?
Yes. As a U.S. sponsor/petitioner, you must maintain your principal residence (also called domicile) in the United States, which is where you plan to live for the foreseeable future. Living in the U.S. is required for a U.S. sponsor to file the Affidavit of Support, with few exceptions. To learn more, go to http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-864instr.pdf
You can also go to http://www.uscis.gov/i-864
If You Were an LPR and Are Now a U.S. Citizen: Upgrading a Petition
If you filed a petition for your spouse and/or minor children when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR), and you are now a U.S. citizen, you must upgrade the petition from family second preference (F2) to immediate relative (IR). You can do this by sending proof of your U.S. citizenship to the National Visa Center (NVC). You should send:
- A copy of the bio data page of your U.S. passport; or
- A copy of your certificate of naturalization
Important Notice: If you upgrade a family second preference (F2) petition for your spouse and you did not file separate petitions for your minor children when you were a LPR, you must do so now. A child is not included in an immediate relative (IR) petition. (This is different from the family second preference (F2) petition, which includes minor children in their parent’s F2 petition.)
Children born abroad after you became a U.S. citizen may qualify for U.S. citizenship.
They should apply for U.S. passports. The consular officer will determine whether your child is a U.S. citizen and can have a passport. If the consular officer determines your child is not a U.S. citizen, the child must apply for an immigrant visa if he/she wants to live in the United States.
All categories of family preference immigrant visas are issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the numerical limit for the category is reached. The filing date of a petition becomes the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached. In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is reached. Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates. http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin.html
Certain conditions and activities may make an applicant ineligible for a visa. Examples of these ineligibilities include: drug trafficking; overstaying a previous visa; and submitting fraudulent documents. If you are ineligible for a visa, you will be informed by the consular officer and advised whether there is a waiver of the ineligibility available to you and what the waiver process is.
For a more thorough discussion of ineligibilities and waivers, please go to: http://www.travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/ineligibilities.html#visa
Rights and Responsibilities of Lawful Permanent Residents: Welcome to the United States
The United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants from all over the world. USCIS is committed to helping them successfully integrate into American civic culture.
Through the landmark publication Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants, USCIS offers a comprehensive guide containing practical information to help immigrants settle into everyday life in the United States, as well as basic civics information that introduces new immigrants to the U.S. system of government.
This guide is available in 14 languages. Welcome to the United States is also available for purchase in English, Spanish, and Chinese through the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). The page can be found at http://www.uscis.gov/newimmigrants