A family visa enables a Lawful Permanent Resident or U.S. citizen to sponsor their spouse and unmarried children for immigrant status. The process involves USCIS petition approval, verification of relationships and an interview with a consular officer in the home country.
Family-based visas are subject to quotas and per-country limits, so processing can be lengthy. However, an experienced San Jose family immigration attorney can guide you through the process.
Immediate Relative Visa
A spouse, unmarried child under 21 and parent of a U.S citizen may be sponsored for immigration in this category.
This is the fastest and simplest family-based visa type available to U.S citizens. There is no cap on the number of immediate relative visas that can be granted each year.
After USCIS approves the petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) for processing. The NVC will send additional forms and fees, and a US Embassy or Consulate abroad will interview the applicant.
After the NVC approves the application, the immigrant relative can apply for a work permit and advance parole to travel in and out of the country. Often, this is combined into one document called a “Combo Card.” Once the immigrant relative receives their Green Card, they can live and work in the United States. However, they must follow the rules governing maintaining status and not falling out of status.
Family Preference Visa
There are several categories of family preference immigrant visas for more distant relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The Department of State allocates these visas according to yearly caps and each foreign relative’s ‘priority date’. The ‘priority date’ is based on when their immigrant visa petition was filed. An immigrant visa becomes available to a foreign relative when their priority date is listed in the monthly DOS report called the Visa Bulletin.
The process starts with a petition, Form I-130, by the U.S. citizen or LPR on behalf of the desired family member. Due to yearly caps and high demand, there are substantial backlogs in most of the family preference categories. This results in waiting times of years or decades before a green card is issued. For example, the wait for first preference immigrants (unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens) from Mexico has increased by more than 900% since 1991, and some families have been waiting for 20 or more years.
Unmarried Child Visa
Family visas are limited each year, and immigration law sets a maximum number of visas available for each category, including immediate relatives, family preference, and third preferences. Due to annual quotas, there are often waiting times for the unmarried sons and daughters over 21 (F3) of U.S. citizens, especially if they are from Mexico or the Philippines.
An attorney can help with the visa process by confirming eligibility, gathering the required documents, and filing the petition on USCIS Form I-130. Once approved, the child must apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad, submitting the necessary supporting documentation, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and proof of relationship.
Once the child applies, they are subject to a visa interview at the consulate or embassy. Once approved, the child will receive their green card and can immigrate to the United States permanently. The process can be complicated and time consuming, so it is important to hire an experienced attorney to guide you through the process.
Immediate Family Member Visa
Critics of our current legal immigration system have cited the ability of immigrant family members to sponsor their close relatives for permanent residence as the basis for so-called “chain migration.” A sponsor must file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and then undergo numerous screenings, including background and national security checks. A sponsor must also prove they meet income requirements, and sign an affidavit of support for the family member(s).
Immediate relative visas are available to spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old of U.S. citizens. They receive preference over all other immigrants, except those filing for preference categories that require them to wait in line.
Due to limited visa availability and high demand, family-based preference categories frequently have lengthy backlogs. It may take many months to a year or more to process a petition for immediate relatives, and even longer for other family-based categories. Applicants in these categories can choose to seek consular processing or adjust their status while in the United States.