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Family Preference and Immediate Relative Petitions: The Basics

U.S. Immigration Law aims to promote family unity. The law provides a legal path for U.S. citizens and green card holders to petition their family members to join them in the United States. This happens with a certain type of immigrant visa.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes visa applicants. There are two main types of family-based immigration:

  1. Immediate relative petitions
  2. Family preference immigrants

Immediate Relative Petitions

Under Section 203 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), U.S. citizens can act as green card sponsors for their immediate relatives. According to the INA, an immediate relative is the spouse or unmarried minor child (less than 21 years of age) of a U.S. citizen. An immediate relative also includes the immigrant's parent if the petitioner is more than 21 years of age.

Immigrant petitions for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens have priority over family preference immigrants.

Family Preference Petitions

Only U.S. citizens can file immediate relative petitions. But family preference categories are available for U.S. citizen and green card holder sponsors.

The list below shows which family relationships qualify for citizen and green card holder family preference petitions. The petitioner must file form I-130 petition to begin the process. This form is also known as the petition for alien relatives.

U.S. citizens can sponsor the following relatives via a family preference petition:

  • Unmarried children who are older than 21 (first preference)
  • Married sons and daughters of any age (third preference)
  • Siblings, if the U.S. citizen petitioner is more than 21 (fourth preference)

Green card holders can sponsor the following eligible relatives via a family preference petition:

  • Their spouse
  • Unmarried children of any age (second preference)

The priority date will depend on the visa's preference category. These visas are also referred to as preference visas.

Navigating the Visa Application Process

After the USCIS approves the immigrant visa petition, the National Visa Center (NVC) handles the case. The USCIS forwards it to the NVC for pre-processing. Sponsorship for immediate relatives is not limited. But the U.S. government set a numerical limit for family preference categories and employment-based immigrants. These factors could affect the wait times and visa processing.

Once the USCIS receives your Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130 petition), it will set the priority date. The priority date will be when the beneficiary will start waiting for the visa number to become available. The U.S. Department of State releases the visa number monthly through the Visa Bulletin.

The Visa Bulletin will show if more immigrant visas are available than the applicants in each fiscal year. The USCIS determines whether there are more visas available. If the visa applicant is outside the country, they may opt for consular processing at the U.S. embassy in their home country.

The petitioner and the beneficiary must submit certain documents during the application process. These documents include an affidavit of support. This will show whether they have the financial means to support the visa petition. The proof of capacity to support is crucial for petitioners to provide immigration benefits.

The beneficiary must also undergo a medical examination, interview with the USCIS officers, and more.

The application for a nonimmigrant visa or an immigrant visa is complex. Applicants and petitioners should consult an immigration attorney. They can help with visa processing and ensure you have all the requirements depending on your visa category.

Waiver and Adjudication

If an immigration officer finds any ground for inadmissibility for legal immigration or green card application, the applicant may apply for a waiver. The waiver would excuse specific grounds of inadmissibility. This would prevent possible cases of deportation or removal.

Adjustment of Status

An immigrant with lawful permanent resident status (LPR) may apply for naturalization. The naturalization process would lead to U.S. citizenship. But note that this often involves more paperwork and longer wait times.

If you want to apply, file an Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) with the USCIS to start the U.S. citizenship or naturalization process. If approved, you will get the immigration benefits offered by the U.S. government to citizens.

There are also cases where you can submit an employment-based petition. This visa is available for noncitizens with extraordinary abilities in specific fields or nonimmigrant employees petitioned by their employers.

Seek Legal Help

Qualifying for an immigrant status is complex and challenging. The required documents and visa processing is overwhelming for most people. You should seek legal advice from an experienced immigration law attorney. They can help you meet the qualifying criteria and ensure your paperwork is filed and completed.

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