What to Know About Family-Based Immigrant Visas
If you have family that is located outside of the United States and you want to find a way for them to get residency in the country, there are several categories of family-based immigration visas that might be available depending on their individual circumstances. The two main categories are immediate relatives and family preference categories. These exist thanks to provisions of United States immigration law, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The number of these available visas is limited each year.
Immediate Relative Immigration Visas
The first category of family-based immigration visas is reserved for immediate family relationships. These apply to someone who has a close family relationship with a United States citizen who can be categorized as an immediate relative. Immediate relatives can be defined as:
- IR-1: A US citizen’s spouse
- IR-2: Unmarried child of a US citizen who is under 21 years of age
- IR-3: Orphan adopted in another country by a US citizen
- IR-4: Orphan who is set to be adopted in the United States by a US citizen
- IR-5: Parent of a United States citizen who is at least 21 years of age
This family-based visa category is not limited in quantity each year.
Family Preference Immigrant Visas
The second category of family-based immigration visas are reserved for more specific and distant types of familial relationships with a US citizen and a select group of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR). These types of visas are subject to a limited number each fiscal year.
Types of family reference visas include:
- (F1) Family First Preference applies to unmarried daughters and sons of United States citizens and their own minor children and are limited to 23,400 visas per year.
- (F2) Family Second Preference applies to spouses, minor children, and unmarried daughters and sons who are 21 years of age or older of lawful permanent residents. At least 70% of 114,200 available visas are typically reserved for spouses and children, while the remainder is available for unmarried daughters and sons.
- (F3) Family Third Preference has 23,400 yearly visas available for married sons and daughters of citizens, along with their minor children and spouses.
- (F4) Family Fourth Preference has 65,000 visas for brothers and sisters of United States citizens, and their minor children and spouses, as long as the citizen is at least 21 years old.
Currently, there is no option for aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, or grandparents to sponsor any relatives for U.S. immigration.
What Happens When Qualified Applicants Exceed the Limit?
If the number of available visas is less than the number of qualified applicants, there will be a wait. Visas will then be issued in chronological order of filing date, which is calculated using the priority date. There will be no immigrant visas issued until an applicant’s priority date has been reached. It is conceivable that there could be a waiting list of a few years, or longer, until a priority date is reached.
What is a Returning Resident Immigrant Visa (SB)?
Any lawful permanent resident who has left and remained outside of the country for a period longer than 12 months, or beyond the re-entry permit validity date, will need a new immigrant visa prior to re-entering the United States. There is a special provision that will apply to LPRs who had to remain out of the country for reasons out of their control.
Steps to Filing Family-Based Immigration Visas
The first step in sponsoring a relative under a family-based immigration visa category is to file a Petition for Alien Relative form. This is done through the Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If you are the citizen and are out of the country, there may be limited circumstances in which a citizen who is living abroad can file the petition from outside of the United States.
Once USCIS approves your petition, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) which assigns a case number to it. When the applicant’s priority date meets the most current qualifying date, the National Visa Center will instruct you to complete the Choice of Address and Agent form, unless you are represented by an attorney. This is the pre-processing phase, and the NVC will request your fees to be paid and all supporting document be forwarded.
Once the NVC has completed its process, it will set up an interview for the applicant at the United States Embassy or Consulate office that is convenient. The applicant will need to follow instructions, which will also include getting a medical examination. Applicants need to ensure they bring all requested documentation so the officer conducting the interview has everything they need. Documents include:
- Passport with at least six months expiration beyond planned date of entry
- Affidavit of Support from the sponsor
- Two 2×2 photographs
- Proof of Completed medical exam
- Civil documents (if requested)
Family-Based Immigration Visa Approval
If you are approved, the officer will return your passport with the immigrant visa and your original documents. Your documents will be in a sealed envelope, which you are not allowed to open. When you enter the United States, the immigration officer will open it.
The visa will include an expiration date that you must enter the United States by. The main applicant will be required to enter before or with the other family members who have accompanying visas.
Just remember, visas allow a foreign national to travel to a United States port of entry, but it does not automatically mean someone will be admitted to the country. That decision is up to the United States Customs and Border (CBP) officers.
Once the applicant has been admitted into the country as a permanent resident, they will receive their green card in the mail, which is the Permanent Resident Card. Applicants who elected to receive their social security number upon entrance to the country will be sent their credentials via the mail to the address provided. If you did not opt to have it automatically sent, you will need to visit a local Social Security Office once you are in the United States.
When an Applicant Becomes Ineligible
There are instances and activities that can cause an applicant to become ineligible. Crimes like drug trafficking, submitting fraudulent documents, or overstaying a prior visa are grounds to make your visa ineligible. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has an entire list of visa ineligibilities.
Frequently Asked Questions with Family-Based Immigration
Here are some of the more frequently asked questions regarding family-based immigration visas:
Does the Sponsor have to have a United States residence?
United States citizen sponsors are required to have their primary residence in the country, and you should be planning to live there for the anticipated future. There are limited circumstances in which they might allow for an exception here.
What is the minimum age requirement for a sponsor?
United States citizens must be 21 years of age or older to file a petition for a parent or sibling. Other categories do not have a minimum age to sponsor family members, but citizens and LPRs need to be at least 18 years old and have a United States residence before they are eligible to sign the Affidavit of Support, which is required.
Do same-sex spouses qualify for immigrant visas?
Yes, same-sex spouses of LDRs and US citizens, including any minor children, are now eligible to receive equivalent immigration benefits as opposite-sex couples.
How long does processing take?
The length of time will vary by case and country of citizenship. Make sure your application is not delayed because you did not follow all instructions, causing them to reject it until you submit the necessary documents.
I need to get a medical examination and vaccinations?
If you make it to the interview phase, you will need to schedule a medical examination and get the required vaccinations, as well. It does not matter how old you are, all applicants are required to get a medical examination that has to be performed by a doctor approved by the NVC. All information and instructions will be sent to the applicant directly.
Learn More About Our Services
Arizona Statewide Paralegal offers services throughout the entire state of Arizona, and we are proud to share that our entire staff has been certified by the Arizona Supreme Court. We have an expert staff of legal document preparers who have been helping Arizona clients with their legal document preparation needs since the 1990s.
There are situations in which you may need to retain an attorney for legal advice throughout the process of applying for family visas, or with other aspects of the immigration process like a obtaining a fiancé visa. However, our knowledgeable team of legal document preparers can handle preparation of all the documents along with some of the complex issues that may potentially arise. Rather than spend thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees when you only need help drafting standardized documents, you can hire Arizona Statewide Paralegal for a fraction of the cost. We offer the same preparation services, but without the pricey hourly rates. From filling out family visa applications and adjustment of status forms to ensuring all your documents are filed in a timely manner, we can help with all your document preparation needs within the state. In addition, Arizona Statewide Paralegal offers the convenience of in-person consultations for those potential clients who feel more comfortable handling these types of legal matters face-to-face.
As you begin researching Arizona document preparation businesses online, you will find search results for numerous legal businesses in the state that advertise a wide variety of document preparation services. However, this is the point in the process at which a majority of their services end. Many of these document preparation services offer no additional benefits beyond simply filling out your forms. Once your documents are prepped and completed, you are the one who is now stuck and left to figure out how to handle everything else that still needs to be done. This can also include filing all the necessary documents with the appropriate court and, in some situations, you may need to find someone else to serve these documents to any necessary people. These types of document preparation service businesses do not offer additional services to help you with any other pending legal matters, either. Typically, if you have any other questions regarding a specific process or you need assistance to properly file the documents, you will be forced to pay additional money by finding a completely new legal document preparation service.
At Arizona Statewide Paralegal, we strive to deliver exceptional customer service and maintain a full-service legal document preparation agency. We will not leave you confused or stuck fending for yourself while facing a mountain of paperwork that must be filed with the proper court. We will not make you determine which court you have to contact, or research whatever follow up needs to be done. It is important to point out that the staff at Arizona Statewide Paralegal are not practicing attorneys; therefore, we cannot legally engage in any work that could be construed as practicing law in Arizona, or any other state. Essentially, this means our paralegal staff is barred from giving any legal advice or telling you how to proceed with your individual case. We can, however, legally prepare all your necessary documents while helping you through the filing process itself. If you have any specific legal questions that relate to adjustment of status, or immigration status for family or fiancé, we would be more than happy to refer you to a skilled and licensed practicing immigration attorney or family lawyer near where you live in Arizona.
If you require any other immigration documents, divorce forms, or any other type of legal documents prepared, contact our expert team at Arizona Statewide Paralegal to see how we can be of assistance. We take extreme pride in providing fast and professional service, while also offering convenience, all at reasonable low prices. Contact our office today to learn more about Arizona document preparation services for family immigration visas or any other legal document needs you may have. We look forward to assisting you now and in the future with all your Arizona document preparation needs.