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What is a Family Based Immigration Visa?
Family immigration is the primary basis for legal immigration to the United States. Under current immigration law, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) can act as a sponsor for certain family members for a visa that provides permanent residence, also known as a “green card.” This method of immigration is largely supported by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965 which formally set family ties as the main way people immigrate to America. Roughly 65% of immigration visas this year are as a result of family sponsors
This can also be referred to as a “chain immigration” in which the first family member to acquire citizenship or legal permanent residence status can start a “chain” in which other family members qualify as well.
Preference Categories and Immediate Relatives:
There are two different kinds of categories potential citizens can fall into under family based immigration visas. These categories are designated as “preference categories” and “immediate relatives”
Immediate relatives refer to a direct family member of the citizen applying for a family based immigration visa. They can be can be spouses of US citizens, unmarried children under 21 of US parents, orphans adopted abroad, orphans to be adopted in the US by US citizens, and parents of US citizens who are at least 21 years old.
The second category is referred to as a “preference category”. This category typically covers individuals who are not immediately related to the applying citizen, but still have a direct connection. These family members can include unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their children; spouses, minor children and unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of legal permanent residents; married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years old.
Note that there is no category which supports a citizen applying for citizenship for their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or in-laws. There may be other ways to file for these individuals to apply for citizenship, but they will not be covered by family visas unless they can qualify for one of these categories in another way.
Is There a Limit to the Number of Visas Each Year?
Yes, currently the United States allows for a maximum of 480,000 family visas to be accepted each year. This cap was set in 1990 by Congress and has not changed since. At least 226,000 of these applications are set aside for individuals falling in the preference categories, to ensure that they are not being blocked by immediate family members.
Typically, an immigrant applying for a family based immigration visa will sponsor 3.5 individuals, which usually include parents, spouses, or children.
There is also a per-country limit, which states that no more than 7% of the total family based immigration visas per year can be granted to individuals from any one country.
How can I qualify to be a Sponsor?
In order to be a sponsor, an individual must be at least 18 years of age, and be a legal permanent resident or a citizen of the United States.
What if I am a member of the Military?
If you are a member of the armed services, you may qualify for special extensions, and should contact the immigration officer at your local base to learn more about what you may qualify for.
What are the benefits of family based immigration visas?
You will be reunited with your loved ones, and have them be able to enjoy the full benefits of a United States Citizen.
What forms will I need?
To complete this process, you and your loved ones will fill out Form I-130, Petition for an Alien Relative
Should I get a lawyer?
Getting a lawyer to help you in this process would be recommended to ensure that your application has the most likely chance of being received and processed by the government. This attorney can help you fill out and file your application, as well as coach you and your loved ones about the background checks and interviews you will go through as part of your application.
What does the process look like?
First, the individual will obtain their legal permanent residency status or citizenship in the United States.
Then, the individual will be eligible to submit an application for their family members of choice.
Once these applications are submitted, the individual for whom the application is filed will be contacted for an interview and a background check. USCIS will examine all green card applications filed to make sure the individual can become a prosperous member of society and not be a public charge upon their arrival.
After USCIS approves the application, it will be sent to the National Visa Center for approval and filing. At this point the individuals in question will be responsible to pay any fees or file any extra paperwork required so that the applicant can receive their green card.
How long will it take for my application to process?
Nobody can be absolutely sure how long it will take for your green card application to process. This process can take anywhere from a few months to over a decade based on the number of applications from others in your home country to the relationship of the individual.
Spouses and children are typically given higher preference and have their applications processed sooner, while other relatives may be pushed a little farther to the back of the line. There is substantial backlog from many countries due to the country cap limit, which may delay the process of you application.
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