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U.S. Visas for Family-Based Immigration

Family ties greatly enrich the quality of life for many. The U.S. immigration laws acknowledge the importance of familial bonds and actively support family reunification. With this, the country offers U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR) opportunities to reunite with family members.

This process is often referred to as family-based immigration. Whether you are considering bringing your spouse, child, parent, or other relatives to join you in the U.S., understanding the immigration process is essential. This article gives an overview of family-based immigrant visas.

The Family-Based Immigration Process

Immediate relatives (spouses and children under 21) experience the shortest waiting period. The law gives this category the quickest application review, and there is no limit on immigrant visas in this category. They subject other relatives to waiting periods because they only allow a set number of visas for those categories each fiscal year.

There are almost always more visa applications than actual visas. When the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves a family-based visa application, a U.S. consular officer issues the visa, allowing the family member to travel to the United States.

If you lose or destroy your birth certificate, the U.S. government may request a genetic test to confirm a family relationship. See the U.S. Department of State's DNA Relationship Testing Procedures for details.

Which Family Members Can Get a Green Card?

In general, only immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (born or naturalized) and lawful permanent residents can bring family members to the United States on an immigrant visa.

Under Section 203 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, citizens of the United States may act as a sponsor for their immediate relatives. The following are considered as immediate relatives:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried minor children less than 21 years old
  • Parent if the U.S. citizen sponsor is over 21 years old

Note that other family members of U.S. citizens and LPRs are also eligible for permanent residence in the family preference immigrant categories:

  • First Preference: Age 21 and older, Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Second Preference A: Unmarried children under 21 years old and spouses of lawful permanent residents
  • Second Preference B: Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 years old of lawful permanent residents
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Fourth Preference: If the U.S. citizen sponsor is over 21 years old, their brothers and sisters

Besides family preference categories, the sponsor should also meet specific economic criteria. This aims to ensure that you have the financial capacity to support the visa processing and the expenses of the incoming family member. The immigration system may likewise ask you to provide an affidavit of support to the immigrants.

What Families Can Expect in the Visa Application Process

If you are a U.S. citizen or an LPR, petitioning a family member to come to the U.S. with a green card begins by filing the Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130). This form can establish your family relationship with an eligible member. You can sometimes file the petition concurrently with the family member's Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485).

If your family member is already in the U.S., they may apply for adjustment of status to that of a green card holder. You can use Form I-485 once a visa number is available.

If your relative is outside the U.S., they will forward your petition to the National Visa Center (NVC). NVC will then forward the petition to the U.S. consulate or U.S. embassy. They will notify you about the next steps when the visa is available. They refer to this part of the visa process as consular processing. After filing the petition, you can track your case's progress on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

It is essential to know that the wait times may depend on the preference visa category that your family member is in.

Eligibility To Receive an Immigrant Visa

You are eligible to receive an immigrant visa if you are a beneficiary of:

  • A pending petition for an alien relative that is ultimately approved
  • An approved petition for an alien relative was filed on your behalf
  • A petition for an alien relative that was ultimately approved was filed together with your application to register as a permanent resident status

Bars To Acquiring Legal Immigration Status

The U.S. immigration system may bar a family member from adjusting their status to that of a permanent resident. This depends on how the family member entered the U.S. or if he or she committed an act or violation of U.S. immigration laws.

In addition, to qualify for a green card, you should be lawfully admissible to the United States. The U.S. government may deem someone ineligible for admission to the country based on the following grounds:

  • Health-related grounds
  • Criminal and related grounds
  • Security and related ground
  • Public charge
  • Illegal entrants and immigration violators

The grounds for a U.S. visa inadmissibility are detailed in Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which is codified in Title 8 of the United States Code. For more information about visa violations and bars to legal immigration, you may also visit the USCIS website.

Temporary Fiancé(e) Visas

The K visa permits a foreign national to enter the country to marry a U.S. citizen. The couple must have met at least once in the two years before applying. The beneficiary of a K visa who then enters the country must marry the petitioner and apply for permanent residence under a separate application within 90 days of their arrival.

Those who enter the country with the K visa may not change or extend their status to another nonimmigrant visa. They are also barred from applying for permanent residency on grounds other than their marriage to the specific U.S. citizen who sponsored them. Exceptions to these limitations are rare.

Seek Legal Help From an Immigration Lawyer

Navigating the intricacies of U.S. immigration laws can be daunting for most. There are waivers to some requirements, and rules may apply differently in each case. So it's generally a good idea to seek advice from an immigration lawyer near you. They can assist you with understanding the rules for family-based immigration. This will ensure that the process runs more smoothly. They can also provide other immigration services, particularly to those facing possible deportation or undergoing removal proceedings.

Learn About Family Visas

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