What Are Family-Based Visas?

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965, American citizens and lawful permanent residents can legally sponsor relatives currently living apart in a foreign country to migrate to the United States and obtain a permanent residency visa. Permanent resident visas, commonly referred to as green cards, grant immigrants permanent residency in the United States and make them eligible to apply for citizenship after five years.

Visa sponsors, those who petition to bring their family members to the United States, are not limited to only American citizens. A family-based visa allows migrated lawful permanent residents presently living in the United States the opportunity to bring family members into the country as well.

What Are the Qualifications for Family-Based Visas?

American citizens and lawful permanent residents can petition the government for certain family members to migrate to the United States and join you. Sponsors must be 18 years old or older and living within the United States for the majority of each year.

In order to qualify for a family-based visa, your foreign relatives must fall into one of only two classification groups to be eligible.

  • Group 1: Immediate relatives of an American citizen:
    • IR-1: The spouse of a sponsoring citizen.
    • IR-2: Children under 21 years old and unmarried.
    • IR-3: Orphan children adopted in their country of birth.
    • IR-4: Foreign orphan children to be adopted in the United States.
    • IR-5: Parents of the sponsoring citizen, over 21 years old.

If you were married and had children when you became a lawful permanent resident, they may be eligible through your status without having to file separate petitions, depending on how your residency status was qualified.

  • Group 2: Family preference, more distant relatives of an American citizen:
    • Family first preference (F1): Unmarried children and their minor children.
    • Family second preference (F2): Spouses of lawful permanent residents, minor children, and unmarried children over 21 years old.
    • Family third preference (F3): Married children, their spouses, and minor children.
    • Family fourth preference (F4): Siblings, their spouses, and minor children. The sponsoring citizen must be over 21 years old.

Each year, the United States makes a maximum of 480,000 family-based visas available. While there are no limits on the number of immediate relative visas, there are limits on the family preference categories of visas. The number of immediate relative visas awarded is subtracted from the total 480,000, lowering the available number of visas given to the family preference categories. However, at least 226,000 must be through the family preference category, per immigration law.

How Do I Apply for a Family-Based Visa?

The American sponsor must file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), requesting an individual family member be allowed to lawfully migrate to the United States. The sponsor is required to establish legitimacy of the relative, meet certain income requirements, and show that they will be financially responsible for the relative after arrival.

The foreign relative must meet certain qualifications as well, including a medical exam, obtaining vaccinations, provide a background national security and criminal history report, and show that they will not be dependent on American government assistance programs. The prospective relative will also have to participate in multiple interviews and cover the fees associated with applications.

After the USCIS approves the petition, a visa number will be issued, and the migrating family member can apply for their green card. Depending on the relative’s location, they may apply the U.S. embassy in their home country or request a change of status to permanent residency if already living in the United States on a temporary visa.

How Long Does it Take to Obtain Visas for My Family?

The pathway to permanent residency for your family members can take a long time, depending on the relative’s category. Immediate relatives receive their green cards much faster, generally, as soon as their qualifications have been met and approved. However, it can take years for those applying as a family preference relative. Due to the number of applicants and caps on available visas, the family preference categories maintain a consistent backlog.

Each month, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) publishes a visa bulletin listing which applicants will be processed during that month. Those waiting their turn can look each month to check the status of their application. Some family preference categories may receive visas faster than others, depending on your relationship to your American sponsor.

What Are the Advantages of Permanent Residency for My Family?

As lawful permanent residents, you and your family will have most of the rights and freedoms as natural-born American citizens. You will be able to do the following:

  • Live freely and lawfully in the United States, provided you do not break any laws that would result in deportation.
  • Earn a higher education degree.
  • Work and build a career in your chosen field, with qualifications, though you may be ineligible for certain jobs due to security concerns.
  • Vote in local elections that do not require American citizenship.
  • Be protected by local, state, and federal laws of the United States.
  • Travel freely outside the United States, provided you have a current passport and your permanent resident card with you to present when re-entering the United States.

Green cards are issued for 10-year periods and will require renewal before the expiration date. Your permanent resident status will not expire, just the card itself.

Philadelphia Immigrations Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Help Clients Reunite With Loved Ones Through Family-Based Visas

Being separated from your family is difficult, especially if your family members reside in a foreign country. Our Philadelphia immigrations lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can help you petition to bring your family member to the country with a family-based visa. Call us at 215-925-4435 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.