Family immigration refers to the process of petitioning a family member for immigration to the U.S. This is usually done by a person who is already a U.S. citizen, or who has permanent residence status. Family immigration generally involves an intent to permanently relocate to the U.S. rather than a short travel under a temporary visa. Petitioning a foreign family member to immigrate to the U.S. usually begins when the citizen files a request with U.S. immigration authorities. 

There are various different family-based visa categories. Two main categories that the visas are organized under are the “Immediate Relative,” and “Family Preference” categories.  Family preference visas area sub-divided into five more categories (1st through 5th preference). Immediate relatives usually get priority over other visa categories; these generally include spouses and children of the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR).

What Is the Quota System for Family Immigration?

The quota system for family immigration refers to the fact that only a certain amount of family-based visas are issued every year. That is, a quota, or maximum number of visas for family immigration is set every year, according to various factors. The number of family visas issued each year is limited according to the category of visa, the country of origin, and the number of visas that were issued during the previous year.

Also, waiting periods for family-based visas can vary greatly. Again, certain categories will have shorter times than others. Generally speaking, immediate relatives will have a shorter wait period than family immigrants under the preference category. This of course may vary significantly depending on the year.

A U.S. citizen may petition their foreign relatives to immigrate to the U.S. through a Family-Based Immigration Visa. The family-based visa category is divided into two basic categories: Immediate Relatives and Family Preferences. The Family Preference category is further divided into 5 different sub-categories.

Family-based visas are distributed according to a quota system. This means that only a limited amount of family-based visas may be issued every year. For this reason, there can be a significant waiting period involved once the visa application is submitted.

What Is an Accompanying Visa?

An accompanying visa allows a family member to travel with a person who is also traveling to the U.S. under a valid visa. This usually only allows close relatives such as spouses, children, and parents of the visa holder to travel to the U.S. Examples of accompanying visas include M-2 visas (relatives of M-1 visa holders) and H-4 visas for family members of H-3 holders. Accompanying visas generally do not lead to permanent residency as do family-based visas.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Family Immigration?

Family immigration issues can often be confusing. The quotas and requirements can be subject to change and may depend on factors from previous years. You may need to hire a qualified immigration lawyer if you or any of your loved ones need assistance with immigration requirements. Any mistakes or omissions in an application can cause a delay in the process, and can even disqualify an applicant. Your attorney can explain how family immigration laws work, and can assist you in reviewing and filing an application.