What is a US Family Visa?
Family-based visas allow US citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor their family members to immigrate to the United States. The US Immigration and Nationality Act set aside certain categories of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas for this purpose.
For applicants outside the US, the process usually involves both the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of States (DOS). Your sponsor will have to file a petition with USCIS to indicate interest in sponsoring you. If the petition is approved, you (the applicant) will have to undergo some “consular processing” at a US embassy in your country of residence.
Applicants who are already in the US may apply to change or adjust their status after their petition has been approved.
Immigrant Family-Based Visas
An immigrant visa means permanent residence in the US, which eventually leads to a green card. This is why they are generally called family-based green cards.
There are two groups under the family-based immigrant category. They are “immediate relative” and “family preference.” Some visa classifications also have an annual numerical limit called visa cap, while some don’t.
Family Preference Green Card
Family preference categories are for family members who aren’t immediate relatives of US citizens. Unlike the immediate relative category, visas under the family preference are subject to an annual numeric limit.
Every year, the United States issues a total of 226,000 family-based green cards to family preference applicants from different countries. These visas are shared across all the subcategories under this group. Visas are made available based on the date a petition is filed, known as “priority date.”
Once the limit is reached for each subcategory, applicants will have to remain in the waiting line until a visa is available to them. Family preference subcategories are grouped as follows:
First Preference (F1): This is for adult, unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens. “Adult” refers to applicants ages 21 and above.
Second Preference (F2A): For spouses and unmarried children of lawful permanent residents. The unmarried children must be under the age of 21.
Second Preference (F2B): Unmarried adult sons and daughters (21 years and above) of lawful permanent residents.
Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of US citizens. They can be of any age.
Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of adult US citizens. The US citizen (sponsor) must be 21 years or older.
Family-Based Green Cards for Immediate Relatives
The immediate relative category is for individuals who have a close family relationship with a US citizen. This includes spouses, children, and parents of a US citizen.
IR1/CR1 Visa: Family-based immigrant visa process for spouses of US citizens is also a marriage-based green card application or IR1/CR1 visa.
IR2 Visa: For a child to qualify for the immediate relative category, they must be unmarried and under the age of 21. Family-based green card application for children is also known as IR2 visa.
IR3 Visa: Green card application for children adopted abroad is generally referred to as IR3 visa.
IR4 Visa: If the child was adopted in the US, the green card application for this is called IR4 visa.
IR5 Visa: US citizens who are 21 years and above are allowed to sponsor their parents. The green card application route for parents is known as IR5 visa.
Applicants under the immediate relative category enjoy a relatively higher priority compared to the family preference category.
There is no annual cap limit, which means visas are always available to qualified applicants as long as they and their sponsors are deemed eligible. Also, as an applicant, you don’t have to stay in the green card waiting line.
The processing starts immediately USCIS receives a petition filed by your sponsor. Once the petition is approved, you can start to process your green card or permanent visa application immediately. And in some cases, immediate relative applicants can submit their green card application along with the petition filed by their sponsor.
How to Apply for Family-Based Green Card (Immigrant Visa)
Form I-130 Petition
The sponsor (US citizen or permanent resident) will begin the process by filing Form I-130, known as Petition for Alien Relative. This form establishes the sponsor’s desire for their family member to gain permanent residence in the US. It also establishes that a qualifying family relationship exists between them and the beneficiary. If approved, the beneficiary can apply to receive a green card.
After I-130 Approval
The next step after your I-130 approval will depend on your location. If you are in the United States, you will file Form I-485, known as Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. If you are outside the US, you will undergo consular processing to receive a visa to enter the United States.
Form I-485 for Green Card Application
If you are in the US and your I-130 has been approved under the immediate relative category, you can submit your Form I-485 application to USCIS immediately. You may also submit your I-485 along with the I-130 petition filed by your sponsor. This is called concurrent filing, and USCIS will process the two forms at the same time.
But if your Form I-130 is approved under the family preference category, you will have to wait until a visa is available in your specific subcategory before you can submit an I-485 application. You will need to keep checking the monthly visa bulletin to know when your priority date will become “current.” This is when you can submit your application for a green card. Green card issuance under family preference may take several months or years, depending on the backlogs in your category.
If you are outside the US when your I-130 is approved, you will have to seek a visa to travel to the US. This is called consular processing and is done at the US embassy or consulate in your country of residence.
After the I-130 approval, USCIS will send your case to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once a visa becomes available, NVC will forward it to a US consulate or embassy. You will receive a notification from the embassy to start your visa application processing.
Immigrant visa applicants will complete Form DS-260 and undergo a visa interview. If the embassy or consulates issues you a visa, you will use it to travel to the US. If you pass the US entry requirements, you will be admitted as a lawful permanent resident.
Family-Based Nonimmigrant Visa
Family-based nonimmigrant visas allow US citizens to bring their foreign relatives to the US. After entering the US, they can then continue their immigration process by seeking permanent resident status. This usually applies to fiancée(e) and spouses and their children. There are two major categories, namely K-1 visa and K-3 visa. Applicants can also bring their dependent children on a K-2 visa and K-4 visa, respectively.
If you are a US citizen and you have a foreign fiancée(e), you may petition USCIS to bring them to the US on a K-1 visa. If your petition is approved, the fiancée(e) will apply for a visa at a US embassy or consulate in their country of residence. You must get married within 90 days after your fiancée(e) enters the United States. After the marriage, the fiancée(e) (now your spouse) can then apply to adjust their status and become a permanent resident.
If the K-1 fiancée(e) has a dependent child, they may bring them to the US. The child must apply for a K-2 visa and undergo the necessary immigration process. If approved, they will be allowed to accompany or join the K-1 holder in the US.
If you are a US citizen and you have filed a Form I-130 for your spouse who is based abroad, you can expedite their entering the US through the K-3 visa. The visa works well for families who don’t want to continue living apart while waiting for USCIS to make a decision on their Form I-130 petition.
The K-4 visa is for children of K-4 applicants. They must be unmarried and under the age of 21. K-4 applicants must also undergo a visa application process at a US embassy or consulate.
How to Apply for a Nonimmigrant Family-Based Visa
To obtain a K-1 or K-3 visa, you (US citizen) must submit Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancee(e) to USCIS. If your fiancée(e) or spouse has children you wish to bring to the US, you will include their names in the petition.
If the Form I-129F petition is approved, USCIS will send the petition to NVC. From there, it will be forwarded to a US embassy or consulate where your spouse or fiancée(e) will undergo consular processing.
How Can IAS Help?
US family-based immigration processes and requirements can sometimes be complex for applicants. With many forms to complete and steps to undergo, the procedures are sometimes overwhelming. This is where we can be of help.
Here at IAS, we have a team of immigration lawyers with top-level expertise in all US immigration law, including family-based immigration processes.
Our immigration experts provide a wide range of assistance tailored towards each applicant’s needs. We can speak with you and help assess your eligibility for US family-based visas. We will also guide you to choose the visa category that best suits your case.
Our attorneys will guide you throughout the application process to help improve your chances of getting approval. We can also work with your sponsor on how to complete their petition successfully. In addition, we help you gather your supporting documents for each form pertaining to your family-based application.
For more information on how we can be of help, you can get in touch with our team today via +1 844 290 6312.
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The average processing time depends on the category you are applying for. For immediate relative applicants, it may take 6 to 12 months. But for family preference applicants, the entire process could take years. Some applicants may be in the waiting line for up to 10 years.
If you are a US citizen, you may petition for your siblings to become green card holders in the US. You must be at least 21 years old and demonstrate proof of qualifying relationships.
Your priority date is the date USCIS receives the Form I-130 filed by your sponsor. USCIS uses it to determine each applicant’s place in the green card waiting line. It is indicated on the Notice of Action, Form I-797. You will wait until the date becomes “current” before you can submit a green card application. “Current” means you have finally reached the front of the queue, and there is a green card available to you.
Family-based green card applicants are generally required to attend an interview. Your interview venue will depend on your location. If you are in the US, you will have your interview at a USCIS office in the US. If you are outside the US, your interview will be held at a US embassy or consulate in your country of residence.