Family immigration is the primary basis for legal immigration to the United States. Under current immigration law, U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) can sponsor certain family members for a visa that provides permanent residence, also known as a “green card.”
Family based immigration is divided in two categories:

1. Immediate relatives: This category is based on a close family relationship with a United States (U.S.) citizen described as an Immediate Relative (IR).There is no numeral limit on how many visas can be issued in this category each year. Qualified candidates do not have to wait for their priority date (visa availability) once the petition is approved by the USCIS. This category includes:
• Spouses of U.S. citizens;
• Unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens;
• Orphans adopted abroad,
• Orphans to be adopted in the U.S., by U.S. citizens;
• Parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old.

2. Family preference categories: This category is for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). This category has subcategories, which have visas available limitations on family preference immigrants, the higher the preference category, the shorter the wait for an available visa. The family preference categories are:
• Family first preference F1: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their children;
• Family second preference F2: F2A: spouses, minor children over 21 of LPRs. F2B: unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of LPRs;
• Family third Preference F3: married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children
• 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 old.


There are specific steps to follow in order for a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident to successfully sponsor a family member. These are:

Step 1: Filing the Petition
To begin the sponsorship process, the U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident family member will need to mail a visa petition on USCIS Form I-130, along with accompanying documents, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The applicant must prove the family relationship is real.
Step 2: USCIS Makes a Decision
Once USCIS receives the petition, the officers will consider whether to approve or deny the request. If USCIS needs any additional information, it will mail to the petitioner a letter called RFE (Request for Further Evidence) asking for it. The petition will not be ready to process unless all the information is received by USCIS.
Step 3: Preference Relatives Wait for Visa Availability
This step only takes place if the petitioner was in the Family Preference group. Relatives that are not considered “immediate” are not eligible for permanent residence right away, as there are annual limits on the number of Green Cards that can be approved. Thus, the immigrant joins a waiting list, and will usually wait years before a visa is available. Step 4: Immigrant Applies for Visa or Green Card
If the I-130 petition has been approved, and a visa has become available, the immigrant would then submit an application for permanent residence.
If applicant is applying out of the United States
USCIS will inform the person who filed the visa petition (the petitioner) if the visa petition is approved. USCIS will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available. The Center will notify the beneficiary (the person the visa is applied for) when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available. When an immigrant visa number becomes available to the beneficiary, the beneficiary must then go to the U.S. consulate servicing the area in which the beneficiary resides to complete their processing. The NVC will guide the applicant on the steps that are required to obtain the appointment with the US consulate abroad.
If Applicant is already in the United States
The beneficiary has to submit Form I-485 (Application for Adjustment of Status), to change their status to a lawful permanent resident after a visa number becomes available for them at your nearest USCIS office.


• Getting a Green Card may take from a few months to a couple of years. The time it takes to get a green card depends on the type of the category that beneficiary is being classified under.
• Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas which do not have a yearly limit: these cases will be processed within a few months.
• Family Preference Immigrant Visas have yearly limits, which means that processing time might vary from months to years. The date when an applicant’s petition will be reviewed is called a priority date. Priority dates are posted monthly on a visa bulletin issued by the U.S State Department.


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