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How Does Family-Based Immigration Work?

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Can You Sponsor a Visa for Your Family Member?

United States law provides an option for U.S. citizens or individuals with a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident status to sponsor visas for foreign relatives. This is known as family-based immigration and can be one of the steps on a path to citizenship for an individual.

You can’t sponsor this type of visa, or green card, for just any relative, though. The law also limits who can sponsor visas and how many of these visas are provided every year.

Who Can Be a Petitioner in this Process?

The person who requests—or sponsors—the visa on behalf of a foreign relative is known as the petitioner. The petitioner must be a U.S. citizen or a permanent legal resident of the United States.

U.S. citizens can petition on behalf of their spouse, child, parent, or sibling. U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents may only petition on behalf of their spouse or unmarried child.

What Are Immediate Relative and Family Preference Categories?

Petitions fall into two categories: immediate relative or family preference.

Immediate relative petitions involve green card requests for individuals who are spouses, parents, or unmarried children who are not yet 21 years of age. These must be relatives of the petitioning individual, who is a U.S. citizen. This category also covers orphan children adopted by U.S. citizens or who are coming to the United States to be adopted by a citizen.

Family preference petitions relate to other qualified relatives, including:

  • Unmarried children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are over the age of 21
  • Spouses and minor unmarried children of permanent residents
  • Married children of U.S. citizens
  • Siblings of U.S. citizens

The major difference between immediate relative and family preference visa categories, other than who is eligible for each, is that the United States doesn’t cap how many immediate relative visas can be approved each year. It does cap the number of green cards issued in the family preference category.

What Is the Process for Applying for Family-Based Immigration?

First, the petitioner must make an official request. They do this by filing a Form I-130, which is also called the “Petition for Alien Relative.” This document must be filed with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services, or USCIS.

USCIS must process and approve the document before any further steps. After the petition is approved, the foreign family member can apply for a green card. This may involve a waiting period if a visa number is not available yet.

Outside of the United States, individuals can go through green card application processes at a U.S. consulate or embassy in their country. If the person is already in the United States on another status, such as a student, they may need to go through the process of adjusting their status.

How Long Does the Process Take?

Once a petitioning family member sends the Form I-130, they will receive a notice of receipt of the petition from USCIS. It can take two to four weeks on average to receive this notice.

The review of the petition typically begins four to 12 weeks after the petition is filed. Immediate family petitions are given priority, so they may be reviewed and processed faster than family preference petitions.

Approval of the petition, if it is granted, can take 10 to 14 months on average for immediate relative petitions, though some take longer. Petitions in the family preference category can take a year or more. Individuals who are linked to a family preference petition will also need to wait for a visa number to be available. As visas are limited each year in this category, it can take several years in some cases for this to happen.

Visa numbers are also provided for family preference candidates on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that there is a benefit to filing the petition sooner rather than later.

Once the petition is approved, the individual seeking the green card must apply for that, which adds more time to the process.

What Is the Chance You Might Be Denied?

Around 10% of Form I-130s are rejected by USCIS because they are not filed correctly. Petitions may also be denied if USCIS deems that the foreign family member is not eligible for the process.

Factors that might mean someone is inadmissible via the family-based immigration process depend in part on whether the petition is an immediate family or family preference petition and whether they are applying via the consulate route or seeking a status adjustment.

However, in some cases, the following circumstances could mean someone is inadmissible on a green card through this process:

  • The person was present in the United States unlawfully for a length of time or numerous times
  • The person worked in the United States without proper authorization in the past (or is doing so presently)
  • The person has violated the terms of their nonimmigrant status

These factors don’t apply to all cases, and in some cases where they do apply, waivers may be available to ensure someone is admissible despite these issues.

Work With an Immigration Attorney to Increase Your Chances of Success

Rejections and denials of family-based immigration petitions can add months or years to the process, even if you are able to file a petition that is subsequently approved. By working with an immigration attorney on this process, you can reduce the chances that your petition will be denied due to a mistake in how it was completed or filed. An experienced immigration lawyer can also help you understand all your options and advocate for your success.

Call Jarrett & Price today at 855-909-3021 to find out about how our team can help with your immigration needs.

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