U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (i.e. green card holders) are able to file a petition to sponsor their relatives to join them under family-based immigrant visa categories. There are two groups of immigrant visa categories: Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas and Family Preference Immigrant Visas.
What Are Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas and Who Qualifies for Them?
These visas are issued to close family members of U.S. citizens who are considered to be an Immediate Relative (IR) for purposes of the visa application process. There is no limit to the number of Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas issued each fiscal year. The categories of IR visas are:
- 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
If you are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) or a U.S. citizen whose relatives don’t fall into the above categories, then you will have to file a petition for a Family Preference Immigrant Visa instead.
What Are Family Preference Immigrant Visas and Who Qualifies for Them?
These visas are issued for more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident. Unlike the Immediate Relative visa class, Family Preference visas are subject to limitations on the number of visas issued each year. The family preference categories are:
- Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. (limited to 23,400 a year)
- Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of lawful permanent residents. At least 77% of all visas available for in category will go to the spouses and minor children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried adult children. (limited to 114,200 each year)
- Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children. (limited to 23,400 each year)
- 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. (limited to 65,000 each year)
Please note that grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins cannot be sponsored for immigration under the two categories described here.
Wait Times for Family Preference Immigrant Visas
The number of qualified applicants for a family preference category vastly exceeds the available visas resulting in wait times for the applicants. The next available visa is always issued in chronological order in accordance with the date the petitions were filed. For certain categories of family preference immigrant visas the waiting period for may last several years or more.
My Relative Qualifies, How Do I File a Petition?
The first step is to file a Petition for Alien Relative, or I-130 form with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
To see if you meet all the requirements to bring your loved on over and to make sure your petition is filed properly, please consult with a qualified and licensed immigration attorney and get the help you need.