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Family Based Immigrants

Overview
How do I File for a Family-Based Immigrant Visa?
Unlimited Family-Based Immigrants - Immediate Relatives
Limited Family-Based Immigrants
Numerical Limitations for Limited Family-Based Immigrants
Is There a Minimum Age Requirement for the Petitioner?
Is a U.S. Domicile Required?
What Does the National Visa Center Do?
What Fees Can I Expect?
How Do I Pay the Fees for the National Visa Center (NVC) Services?
Upgrading a Petition - If You Were an LPR and Now are an American Citizen
Applying for a Visa
Medical Examination
Vaccination Requirements
What if the Applicant is Ineligible for a Visa?
Misrepresentation of Material Facts or Fraud
How Long Does it Take?
How Do I Find the Regulations about Immigrant Visas?
General Visa Questions

Overview

In general, a person who wishes to immigrate to the United States must have a petition approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before applying for an immigrant visa. For family based visas, the petition is filed either by a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident relative.

How do I File for a Family-Based Immigrant Visa?

As the first step, the sponsoring relative files a Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130. You file the petition with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS) immigration Field Office in the United States that serves the area where you live, except as explained below. For instructions on how to file a petition see Petitioning Procedures: Bringing an Alien Relative to Live in the United States.

Sometimes a U.S. citizen living abroad can file an immigrant visa petition at an U.S. embassy or consulate or with the USCIS overseas, when the American citizen petitioner has been a resident there for the preceding 6 months and has host country permission to reside there. To find out whether you can file a petition at a specific embassy abroad, review website information at the embassy where you will apply. To learn more visit the U.S. Embassy web page and find your respective embassy.

Unlimited Family-Based Immigrants - Immediate Relatives

Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens (IR): These types of immigrant visas are based on a close family relationship with a U.S. citizen, including spouses, children, and parents. Additionally, a U.S. citizen can sponsor a child adopted or to be adopted from abroad, if that child meets the definition of orphan as provided for in immigration law. Family members of United States citizens (not Legal Permanent Residents) can file Immediate Relative Petitions.

For immigration purposes, Immediate Relative classifications include:

  • Spouse of a U.S. Citizen (IR-1) Learn More

  • Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen (IR-2)

  • Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen (IR-3) Learn More

  • Orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen (IR-4) Learn More

  • Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old (IR-5)

Returning Residents (SB): Immigrants who lived in the United States previously as lawful permanent residents and are returning to live in the U.S. after a temporary visit of more than one year abroad.

Limited Family-Based Immigrants

These types of immigrant classifications involve specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident. Under immigration law, there are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants as explained below.

  • Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their children, if any. (23,400)

  • Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (over age 20) of lawful permanent residents. (114,200) At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder will be allocated to unmarried sons and daughters.

  • Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children. (23,400)

  • Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of United States citizens, and their spouses and children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000)

Note: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.

Numerical Limitations for Limited Family-Based Immigrants

Whenever there are more qualified applicants for a category than there are available numbers, the category will be considered oversubscribed, and immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the numerical limit for the category is reached. The filing date of a petition becomes the applicant's priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant's priority date is reached. In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is reached. Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates.

Is There a Minimum Age Requirement for the Petitioner?

There is no minimum age to file a petition for a Family-Based immigrant visa. However, you must be 18 years of age and have a domicile in the U.S. before you can sign the Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, and this form is required for an immigrant visa for spouses and other relatives of U.S. sponsors.

Is a U.S. Domicile or Residence Required?

You must have a domicile (residence) in the United States before we can issue an immigrant visa to your family member. This is because a U.S. domicile is required to file an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, and this form is required for all immediate family members of a U.S. citizen involved in an immigrant visa case.

What Does the National Visa Center Do?

After a Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in the United States approves the petition, it sends the petition to the National Visa Center (NVC). When an applicant's priority meets the most recent Qualifying Date, the NVC will contact the applicant and petitioner with instructions for submitting the appropriate processing fees. After the appropriate processing fees are paid, the NVC will again contact the applicant and petitioner to request that the necessary immigrant visa documentation be submitted to the NVC. Learn more about National Visa Center visa case processing.

Outlined below is a general explanation of the NVC visa case pre-processing and descriptions to help you better understand the steps involved.

Important Note: The National Visa Center (NVC) will provide notification and instructions for both U.S. sponsors and visa applicants. It is important that you submit forms and documentation only when notified to do so by NVC. Remember to follow instructions from the NVC carefully. Sending the NVC documentation (or paying fees) when they were not requested by the NVC will result in a delay in processing.

If you ARE working with an attorney, the NVC will take the following steps:

  1. Assigns a case number to the petition.

  2. Send the Affidavit of Support processing fee and the immigrant visa fee bill to the attorney.

  3. After the Affidavit of Support processing and immigrant visa application fees are paid, the NVC will send the Affidavit of Support Process and the Applicant Document Process instructions to the attorney.

  4. After the Affidavit of Support and applicant documents are submitted to the NVC, the NVC will review the information submitted for technical correctness and completeness.

  5. After reviewing the submitted documentation and determining the file is complete with all the required documents, the NVC will send the petition to the embassy or consulate where the applicant will apply for a visa. For almost all embassies/consulates, the NVC will schedule the applicant's interview. Approximately one month before the applicant's scheduled interview appointment with a consular officer, all interested parties (applicant, petitioner, and attorney) will receive an appointment letter containing the date and time of the applicant's visa interview along with instructions for obtaining a medical examination.

If you ARE NOT working with an attorney, the NVC will take the following steps:

  1. Assigns a case number to the petition.

  2. Send Form DS-3032, Choice of Address and Agent to the applicant and the Affidavit of Support processing fee bill to the petitioner.

  3. After the applicant selects an agent the NVC will send the immigrant visa processing fee bill to the agent. Note: The agent does not need to be an attorney.

  4. After the immigrant visa application processing fee has been paid the NVC will send instructions to the agent which will explain the Applicant Document Process.

  5. After the applicant documents are submitted to the NVC the NVC will review the information submitted for technical correctness and completeness.

  6. After the Affidavit of Support processing fee is paid the NVC will send an instruction letter to the petitioner, which explains the Affidavit of Support Process.

  7. After the Affidavit of Support documents are submitted to the NVC, the NVC will review the information submitted for technical correctness and completeness.

  8. After reviewing the submitted documentation and determining the file is complete with all the required documents, the NVC will send the petition to the embassy or consulate where the applicant will apply for a visa. For certain embassies/consulates, the NVC will schedule the applicant's interview. Approximately one month before the applicant's scheduled interview appointment with a consular officer, all interested parties (applicant, petitioner, and third-party agent, if applicable) will receive an appointment letter containing the date and time of the applicant's visa interview along with instructions for obtaining a medical examination.

What Fees Can I Expect?

Fees are charged for the following services:

  • Filing an immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, form I-130. (See Note below)

  • Processing an immigrant visa application, for DS-230.

  • Reviewing an I-864, I-864W or I-864EZ Affidavit of Support (for petitions filed in the United States).

  • Medical examination and required vaccinations (costs vary from place to place).

  • Fingerprinting fees, if applicable.

  • Other costs may include translation and photocopying charges, fees for getting the documents you need for the immigrant visa application (such as passport, police certificates, birth certificates, etc.) and travel expenses to go to the embassy or consulate for the interview. Costs vary from country to country and case to case.

Note: Fees must be paid for each intending immigrant regardless of age, and are not refundable. Local currency equivalents are acceptable. Fees should not be sent to the consular office unless requested specifically. When the sponsor resides in the U.S. the petition will filed domestically, with associated petition fee paid to USCIS.

How Do I Pay the Fees for the National Visa Center (NVC) Services?

The NVC sends bills for certain fees at the appropriate time in the immigrant visa process. It sends bills for these services to the following people:

  • Bill for processing the I-864 Affidavit of Support (I-864W or I-864-EZ, as applicable) to the petitioner.

  • Bill for immigrant visa application processing to the agent.

The NVC sends a correctly addressed, return envelope with the bills.

Remember these important things:

  • It is important that you use the return envelope provided to you, when paying the fees

  • Don't forget to put the correct postage on the envelope

  • Don't pay the bill until the NVC tells you to do so

  • Don't send payments to the NVC at Portsmouth, New Hampshire

For further information see National Visa Center.

Upgrading a Petition - If You Were an LPR and Now are an American Citizen

If you filed a petition for your family member when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR), and now you are an U.S. citizen, you must upgrade the petition from family second preference (F2) to immediate relative (IR). You can do this by sending proof of your citizenship to the National Visa Center (NVC). To prove that you are a U.S. citizen, you can send:

  • A copy of the biodata page of your U.S. passport; or

  • A copy of your certificate of naturalization

Important Notice: If you are now a U.S. citizen, you must file separate immigrant visa petitions for each of your children. If you upgrade a family second preference (F2) petition for your family member and you did not file separate petitions for your children when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR), you must do so now. A child does not have derivative status in an immediate relative (IR) petition. This is different from the family second preference (F2) petition. A child is included in his/her parent's F2 petition. A child is not included in his/her parent's IR petition.

Applying for a Visa

After being notified by the National Visa Center, the applicant will complete the Application for Immigrant Visa following Instructions for Immigrant Visa Applicants. When the case is complete, an appointment package is sent to the agent or the applicant (see note below). The appointment package gives the applicant an interview date and tells you the specific requirements of the visa. It includes instructions on where to go to have the required medical examination. During the interview process, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a Consular Officer. In general, the following is required.

  • Passport(s) valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the United States

  • Birth certificate

  • Police certificate from all places lived since age 16

  • Medical examination

  • Evidence of financial support. A completed Affidavit of Support (I-864, I-864 EZ or I-864W,as appropriate) from petitioner/ sponsor is required.

  • Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, Form DS-230, both Part I and Part II

  • Two immigrant visa photos

  • Proof of the marriage and the husband/wife relationship

  • Payment of immigrant processing fees, as explained below

Documents in foreign languages should be translated. See Applicant Documents for more specific information about requirements. The consular officer may ask for more information. Take clear, legible photocopies of civil documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, to the immigrant visa interview. Original documents can then be returned to you.

Note: The National Visa Center sends appointment packages to the applicant (or agent) when the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident sponsor filed the petition in the United States. When the sponsor files the petition overseas, the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad sends appointment packages to the applicant.

Medical Examination

Before the issuance of an immigrant visa, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination which must be performed by one of a panel of doctors authorized to complete the medical examination and x-ray of U.S. visa applicants.  Applicants are provided instructions by NVC.

Vaccination Requirements

United States immigration law requires immigrant visa applicants to obtain certain vaccinations prior to the issuance of an immigrant visa. Panel physicians who conduct medical examinations of immigrant visa applicants are required to verify that immigrant visa applicants have met the vaccination requirements. See IV Vaccination Requirements for the list of required vaccinations and additional information.

What if the Applicant is Ineligible for a Visa?

Certain conditions and activities may make you, the applicant, ineligible for a visa. Examples of these ineligibilities are:

  • Drug trafficking

  • Having HIV/AIDS

  • Overstaying a previous visa

  • Practicing polygamy

  • Advocating the overthrow of the government

  • Submitting fraudulent documents

The consular officer will inform you if you are ineligible for a visa, whether there is a waiver for the ineligibility and what the waiver procedure is. See Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas for more information.

Misrepresentation of Material Facts or Fraud

Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States. Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas provides important information about ineligibilities.

How Long Does it Take?

The length of time varies from case to case according to its circumstances, and cannot be predicted for individual cases with any accuracy. Some cases are delayed because the applicants do not follow instructions carefully. Sometimes the petitioner cannot meet Affidavit of Support requirements. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a Consular Officer.



 
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