There are several ways to obtain U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residents (LPR) status. This will depend on your individual situation. Currently, citizens and some LPRs of the U.S. can act as sponsors for certain relatives to obtain a family-based immigrant visa. If they are successful, those relatives will receive a green card and have permanent residence status.

Who Can Receive a Family-Based Immigrant Visa?

Only two categories of relatives can receive these types of visas:

  1. Immediate Relatives: An unlimited amount of visas can be given out in this category each year. This includes relatives with a closer relationship to the sponsor (spouses, unmarried children under 21, orphans adopted abroad, orphan to be adopted in the United States and parents over 21); and
  2. Family Preferences: Only a limited amount of visas can be given out in this category each year. This includes relatives with a more distant relationship to the sponsor and are ranked as follows:
    1. First Preference: unmarried sons and daughters and their minor children (23,400 visas allotted);
    2. Second Preference: spouses, minor children and unmarried sons and daughters of an LPR (114,200 visas allotted - 70% or more will got to the spouses and children);
    3. Third Preference: married sons and daughters, their spouses and their minor children (23,400 visas allotted); and
    4. Fourth Preference: brothers and sisters, their spouses and their minor children - in this category the citizen sponsor must be over 21 (65,000 visas allotted)

If there are more applicants than the category allows for, the visas will be issued in order according to their priority date. This refers to the date that the petition was filed. Individuals with a later priority date may have to wait years to actually obtain a visa. This will all depend on the number of submitted and approved visas each year.

What is the Process to Apply for a Family-Based Immigrant Visa?

To receive a family-based immigrant visa, you need to file a Petition for Alien Relative with the Department of Homeland Security - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). There is a standard form that you will need to fill out to complete the petition. The petition asks for detailed information about yourself, your relative(s) that you are sponsoring and your family history.

If you are residing outside of the U.S., the procedure for filing the petition will depend on whether you are residing in a country that has a USCIS office. Consulting with an immigration attorney on this issue could help make the process smoother.

After your petition is approved, a case will be opened at the National Visa Center. Fees will also need to be paid and further documentation may be requested. This could include passports, photos, an affidavit, civil documents and evidence of a medical examination.

A visa application will also need to be submitted. Once this is all done, an interview will be conducted. The sponsor, applicant and your attorney (if you have one) will be notified of each step along the way.

How Can New Immigration Policies Impact the Ability to Obtain a Family-Based Immigrant Visa?

Immigration policies are constantly changing in the U.S. These changes will depend on factors such as the current administration, shifting viewpoints, availability of funds and other various external influences.

As such, the process for obtaining a family-based immigrant visa could change in the future. In fact, there have already been some recent changes. For example, same-sex spouses and their minor children can now apply for family-based immigrant visas and receive these benefits.

Other potential changes could include changes to the number of family-based immigrant visas allotted each year (for both immediate relatives and family preferences), who can receive these visas, the overall process for obtaining these visas and the waiting period for obtaining the visa.

Opponents of family-based immigrant visas view this process negatively and refer to it as “chain migration.” These opponents believe that the availability of family-based immigrant visas should be limited or abolished.

This would provide more conservative immigration policies that limit the amount and type of people who can become U.S. citizens or LPRs. Since immigration is a hot topic of debate, keep monitoring any changes to immigration policies to determine if the ability to obtain family-based immigrant visas is affected in the future.

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney to Assist With my Family-Based Immigrant Visa Petition?

The above information is an overview of the process for applying for and obtaining a family-based immigrant visa. Immigration cases can be complex and will vary depending on the particular circumstances. Hiring an immigration attorney to help you with the process will help to make sure the application is filled out correctly and the overall process goes smoother. More specific details about family-based immigrant visas can also be found on the USCIS website.