What Are Family-Based Petitions?
A foreign citizen seeking to live permanently in the United States requires an immigrant visa (IV). To be eligible to apply for an IV, a foreign citizen must be sponsored by an immediate relative who is at least 21 years of age and is either a U.S. citizen or a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (that is, a green-card holder).
The Immigration and Nationality Act allows citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their foreign national family members to immigrate to the United States based on their relationship. However, this act also sets a limit on the number of available family-based immigrant visas that can be issued each year.
While the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plays a significant role in determining eligibility for these visas, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) allocates these immigrant visas.
Which Family Members Can I Petition?
You may petition for certain family members, relatives (or future relatives such as a fiancé(e), or a prospective adopted child) to immigrate to the United States.
Family-based immigrants fall into one of two categories – immediate relatives or family preference immigrants.
How Can I Help a Family Member Immigrate?
Your status determines which relatives (or future relatives) may be eligible to receive immigration benefits. In order to help a family member immigrate, you must be a:
- U.S. citizen
- Green Card holder (legal permanent resident)
- Refugee admitted as a refugee within the past 2 years or asylee granted asylum within the past 2 years
Family-Based Immigrant Visas
These visas are based on a close family relationship with a U.S. citizen, such as a child, spouse, or parent. The number of family-based immigrant visas in these categories is not limited.
These visas are for specific, more distant, family relationships with U.S. citizens and some specified relationships with Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR). The number of immigrant visas in these categories is limited each fiscal year.
Keep in mind that U.S. citizens can file an immigrant visa petition for their:
- Son or daughter
- Brother or sister
U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents can only file an immigrant visa petition for their:
- Unmarried children (son or daughter)
Difference Between Immediate Relatives and Family Preference Categories
The US immigration law clearly distinguishes between immediate relatives and family preference categories. Immediate relatives are referred to the close family members of a US citizen. This category includes
- unmarried children under the age of 21
- parents of US citizens
The advantage of the immediate relatives is that an unlimited number of visas are available for them. Petitioners under this category won’t have to wait for a visa number to become available, streamlining their family-based immigration process.
Family preference categories include more extended family members of US citizens and lawful permanent residents. These categories are subjected to annual visa caps, meaning that a limited number of visas are available each year.
The family preference system is divided into several categories, including
- unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens
- spouses and children of lawful permanent residents
- siblings of US citizens
However, due to the limited number of visas, there can be significant waiting times in the family preference system, often requiring applicants to wait for years before they can adjust their status and reside in the United States permanently.
What Documentation is Required When Filing a Family-Based Petition?
Initiating the family immigration process requires the US citizen or lawful permanent resident to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with the appropriate immigration authorities. This form serves as the foundational document in the family-based immigration process.
Along with the I-130 petition, the petitioner may provide evidence of their US citizenship or lawful permanent resident status, such as a birth certificate, passport, or green card. Documentation proving the qualifying relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary is also essential.
This might include marriage certificates, birth certificates, or other official documents. Once the I-130 is approved, it’s forwarded to the National Visa Center, where further consular processing or adjustment of status procedures will commence, depending on the beneficiary’s current immigration status and location.
How Can an Immigration Attorney Help
Reaching out for help in family-based immigration cases can be a smart move. For example, immigration lawyers can help you gather all the necessary documents and make sure you are following all the required steps in the process.
If you have more questions, contact an immigration attorney at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, for information or advice.