Immediate Relatives & Family Preference Categories
U.S. citizens and permanent residents (“petitioners”) may petition for and sponsor certain family members (“beneficiaries”) to immigrate permanently to the United States by filing an immigrant visa petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A beneficiary of an approved visa petition may apply for an immigrant visa through the U.S. consular system abroad or, in some cases, apply for adjustment to permanent residence without departing the United States.
An Immediate Relative of a U.S. citizen, including a spouse, child under the age of 21, or parent, is immediately eligible for an immigrant visa upon approval of a visa petition. However, children who have already reached age 21 and siblings of U.S. citizens are subject to heavily backlogged Family Preference Categories and should expect lengthy delays before receiving an immigrant visa or adjusting to permanent residence. Similarly, family members of permanent residents are subject to Family Preference Categories, but spouses and minor children of permanent residents will experience less significant delays.
The U.S. Department of State issues a new Visa Bulletin each month containing updates on expected processing delays for the Family Preference Categories.
Consular Visa Processing
A beneficiary of an approved visa petition may file an application for an immigrant visa with the National Visa Center (NVC), which is a subcomponent of the Department of State located in New Hampshire. Upon receipt of the application and all required evidence, the NVC will process the application and forward the file to the appropriate U.S. Consulate abroad to conduct a visa interview. The beneficiary (now a “visa applicant”) must appear for the scheduled interview and demonstrate that he or she is eligible for the visa and admissible to the United States. In general, a visa applicant is required to provide original evidence of the claimed family relationship as well as original certificates and other documentation showing that the applicant is eligible for admission to the United States.
Adjustment of Status
A beneficiary of an approved visa petition may apply to adjust to permanent resident status without leaving the United States if the beneficiary is present in the United States after being admitted or paroled by an immigration officer and the beneficiary is immediately eligible for an immigrant visa. Immediate Relatives of U.S. citizens, in particular, are immediately eligible for an immigrant visa by statute and may file their applications for adjustment to permanent residence concurrently with the filing of the visa petition.
U.S. citizens (“petitioners”) may petition for and sponsor their foreign national fiancé(e)s (“beneficiaries”) for a K–1 nonimmigrant visa, which permits the fiancé(e) to enter the United States to marry the petitioner. The petitioner and beneficiary must be legally able to marry and must have a mutual intention to marry within 90 days of the beneficiary’s admission to the United States. Absent special circumstances, the couple will also be required to produce evidence that they have spent time together in-person during the 2-year period preceding the filing of the petition.
Once the visa petition is approved, the case is forwarded to the appropriate U.S. Consulate abroad for a visa interview. The beneficiary must attend the interview and demonstrate eligibility for the visa and admissibility to the United States. Once admitted to the United States pursuant to the K-1 nonimmigrant visa, the couple must marry within 90 days and, following the marriage, the beneficiary is eligible to apply for adjustment to permanent resident status.
The unmarried, minor children of the beneficiary, if any, derive nonimmigrant visa status from the beneficiary if the children are named on the visa petition. A separate petition is not required so long as the children accompany the beneficiary to the United States or follow the beneficiary within one year. Otherwise, the children require a separate visa petition.
Additional Family Options
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) contains many other provisions to ensure family unity and reunification, including provisions that benefit the immediate family members of asylees and individuals who have received other forms of humanitarian relief or protection in the United States. Among other examples, the immediate family members of foreign nationals who benefit from the following immigration programs may be eligible to immigrate to the United States:
- Asylum / Refugee Status
- Cuban Adjustment Act
- Diversity Visa (“Green Card”) Lottery
- U or T Nonimmigrant Status