Do you have a parent, sibling, spouse, or other immediate family member who is an immigrant to the United States? Then you may be interested in learning how family immigration works and what the green card application process is like. The majority of all family-sponsored immigrants are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. If you are an American citizen, you may sponsor an immediate family member for a green card.
Family-Based Immigration for Preference Relatives Explained
Foreign nationals who have been granted permission to permanently live and work in the U.S. are known as lawful permanent residents. There a number of ways to become a lawful permanent resident, such as by getting petitioned for by a relative who is already a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen. To be a petitioner, the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must prove that he or she has sufficient income and/or assets to provide financial support to the foreign relative. There are also a number of other steps that must be completed to obtain a family-based green card.
When it comes to family-based immigrant visas, there are two main categories: immediate relatives and family preference. Immediate relative immigrant visas are focused on a close relationship between a U.S. citizen and immediate relative, such as a spouse, unmarried child under age 21, orphan adopted abroad, an orphan to be adopted in the U.S., or a parent who is at least 21 years old. A family preference immigrant visa applies to more distant family relationships. This type of visa is broken down into main categories, including the following:
- Family First Preference: Also known as F1, this category applies to unmarried daughters or sons of U.S. citizens, as well as any minor children if applicable.
- Family Second Preference: Also known as F2, this category applies to spouses, minor children, and unmarried daughters and sons aged 21 or older.
- Family Third Preference: Also known as F3, this category pertains to married daughters and sons of U.S. citizens, as well as their spouses and minor children if applicable.
- Family Fourth Preference: Also known as F4, this category applies to sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens, as well as their spouses and any minor children if applicable. This only applies if the U.S. citizen is over the age of 21.
The body of law that governs the current immigration policy is referred to as the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Currently, there is no cap on immediate relative family visas. However, the amount of family preference visas cannot surpass 480,000. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are responsible for handling immigration applications and approvals.
Role of Petitioners and Beneficiaries
Family-based immigration requires participation from at least two family members. One is the petitioner and the other is known as the beneficiary. Petitioners in family immigration refer to U.S. family members who ‘petition’ for their foreign relative to get a visa so that they can obtain a green card. The beneficiary is the foreign family member who is seeking a green card. In some instances, the beneficiary may also have a spouse and children who may qualify for green card status. As previously mentioned, all family-based immigrants fall into one of two categories: immediate relative or family preference. Generally, there is a wait for family members who fit into the family preference category.
The petitioner files a family-based visa petition for the beneficiary, which is sent to U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS will review the family-based visa petition and will determine whether it will be approved or denied. If approved, the foreign national will have to submit an immigrant visa application. Due to green card quotas set by Congress, the petition process can take anywhere from just a few months up to several years. Various factors can influence the length of time it takes to gain approval from USCIS.
Starting the Green Card Application Process
The first step towards approval of an immigrant visa is for the sponsoring relative to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Once the petition is approved by USCIS, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) where it will be assigned a case number. At this time, the beneficiary and each qualified family member immigrating with the beneficiary must complete the Form DS-260, Application for Immigrant VIsa and Alien Registration.
In most cases, the U.S. petitioner will be required to submit a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. The affidavit of support is a legal contract between the sponsor (petitioner) of an immigrant visa applicant (beneficiary) and the U.S. government. It’s a promise to support the beneficiary if the person does not have the means to support him or herself. Additional civil documents, medical examination and police clearances may be required as well. Lastly, there will be an immigrant visa interview in the beneficiary’s home country. Once this process has been completed, an immigrant visa may be issued.
Learn More About Family Immigration
Family immigration law and the green card process can be very difficult to navigate on your own. This is why it is always a good idea to have experienced legal counsel on your side. For more information about family immigration or for assistance with your case, contact the immigration lawyers at Johnson & Masumi.