What is Family-Based Immigration?

Last updated on: June 13, 2022

For some families, there is nothing more important than being together where they can have opportunities for themselves and their future. This is particularly true when some family members are separated in different countries. Our country was founded on the concepts of freedom and family, and, fortunately, in the United States, we have laws that make it possible for families to help each other come together here to enjoy our immense opportunities. 

Immigration laws are complicated for anyone, but especially for individuals who don’t speak the English language. Having the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer can help when a family member is seeking an immigrant visa in the United States. 

The Building Blocks of Family-Based Immigration

In any family-based immigration matter, there must be at least two family members involved. One is the petitioner who is either a United States citizen or a lawful permanent resident. The other is the beneficiary who is seeking an immigrant visa. In some cases, the beneficiary may also have a spouse and children who can qualify as beneficiaries. 

Seeking a Family-Based Immigrant Visa

Any foreign citizen who wishes to live permanently in the United States must secure an immigrant visa. To apply for an immigrant visa, that person must be sponsored by a family member who is either a United States citizen or a U.S. green card holder. 

There are two different categories of family immigrant visas. An immediate relative visa is one that is secured for a close family relationship. Close family relationships, or immediate relatives, are spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21. These visas are unlimited to immediate family members of United States citizens.

Anything other than the immediate relative immigrant visa is considered a family preference visa. While immediate family visas are unlimited, family preference visas are limited in number each year. Consequently, there is usually a backlog of most family preference category visas. 

What is the Process For Applying for an Immigrant Visa?

The basic application process begins when a citizen or lawful resident family member petitions for a family member to immigrate. When it comes to family-based immigration, immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen have a clear advantage. These immediate relatives are limited to

  • A spouse
  • An unmarried child
  • An orphan adopted either abroad or in the United States by a U.S. citizen
  • A parent of a U.S. citizen

A U.S. citizen may also sponsor a foreign fiance to come here for the purpose of marriage. 

Family preference categories include all other qualifying relationships of either a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships of lawful permanent residents, including

  • Unmarried sons and daughters aged 21 or older of a U.S. citizen
  • Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of permanent residents
  • Unmarried sons and daughters aged 21 or older of a permanent resident
  • Married sons and daughters of any age of a U.S. citizen
  • Siblings or any adult U.S. citizen

United States citizens and permanent residents will first file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will then be processed. 

When the demand for family preference visas exceeds the limits, which it usually does, a waiting list forms, and each individual on the waiting list is placed according to a priority date. The U.S. Department of State publishes a bulletin each month where family members can check where they are in line. Depending on the category, this, unfortunately, can take a matter of months or even years. 

Legal immigration to the United States is time-consuming and complicated. Consequently, many individuals choose to use an experienced immigration lawyer to ensure requirements are understood and all forms and paperwork are completed properly. 

How long does the whole process take?

It’s not an easy process and can take many years to receive a visa. Because of the high demand for visas and limited supply, waiting times can be quite long, especially for family preference immigrants. On the other hand, family members who are immediate can get their visas faster once they’ve completed the lengthy visa application process.

Important Things to Remember

These are the key things you need to remember while seeking family-based migration.

  • The sponsor must at least be 18 years old, reside in the United States, and be financially sound. If one sponsor cannot meet these criteria, then a joint sponsor might be used.
  • Visas for spouses, children, and parents are not subject to any restrictions. The visas granted each year are subject to restrictions for family members in the family preference category.
  • All applicants for immigrant Visas must go through a mandatory medical examination.

Visas for immediate relatives

The Immediate Relationship category includes the spouse, parent, or unmarried child of a U.S. citizen under 21 years old. Children younger than 21 years old are not eligible to petition for their parents. The Immediate Relative visa category is always current. There is no preference categories backlog. A separate petition for dependents is required. No derivative beneficiaries are permitted. If the sponsoring US spouse has minor children from a previous marriage, the petition must be filed for that child.

The Immediate Relative petition filed by a US citizen for a spouse who has been married less than two years will grant “Conditional Residence” to the foreign spouse. This is valid for two years. To remove conditions on residence, both the US and foreign spouses will need to file another petition within the 90-day period preceding the two-year expiration of conditional residence.

If you have questions concerning family-based immigration or any other pathways to legal status in the United States, contact our experienced immigration lawyers at KL Sanchez Law Office, P.C. Call now: (646) 701-7990.

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