Family Based Immigration Law
As the world continues to shrink, families often find themselves separated by national boundaries. The immigration laws of the United States recognize the importance of family unity, and they provide avenues for persons who have legal status in the U.S. to petition for certain relatives to join them, or to acquire legal status if they are already within the country.
Generally, the process begins with the petitioning relative filing a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) with the appropriate U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS) immigration Field Office in the United States. Sometimes, a U.S. citizen who has been lawfully residing abroad for at least six months may file the immigrant visa petition with USCIS abroad, or with the appropriate U.S. consulate or embassy. The I-130 petition establishes that a requisite relationship exists on the basis of which a visa may be issued.
Alien relative petitions fall into two categories: 1) unlimited, and 2) limited. Unlimited alien relative petitions are always available for qualifying relatives of U.S. citizens (not Lawful Permanent Residents) who meet the eligibility requirements. These visas are reserved for the following relatives:
Spouse of a U.S. Citizen (IR-1)
Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen (IR-2)
Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen (IR-3)
Orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen (IR-4)
Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old (IR-5)
Limited alien relative petitions are only available in certain numbers each year. These numbers are designated by the U.S. Congress and are distributed among the countries of citizenship of the alien relatives being petitioned for. There are normally far more petitions filed than there are visas made available, so the result of the country distribution is that how long an alien relative has to wait for a visa will depend on how many people apply for visas from that alien’s country of citizenship.
The number of visas available for limited alien relative petitions depends on the legal status of the person petitioning for a visa and on his or her relationship to the alien for whom the petition is filed. The following relationships and legal statuses fall form different “preference categories” that determine how long it will take for a visa to become available:
Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their children, if any.
Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (over age 20) of lawful permanent residents. Approximately three fourths of all visas available for this category will go to spouses and minor children; the remainder will be available to unmarried sons and daughters.
Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children.
Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of any age (and their spouses and children) of United States citizens over the age of 21.
In addition to the availability of a visa, whether limited or unlimited, there are other criteria that must be met before a visa will be issued for an alien relative. Depending on the circumstances of each case, it may be important to consult an attorney before filing a petition with USCIS.
Certain factors such as previous criminal history or immigration violations may complicate the process further, and it is important to consult with an attorney before submitting your petition to USCIS.
Another reason to consult with an attorney is that the information above is not exhaustive of the types of visas available based on family relationships. While, generally, grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration, a petition may be filed, for example, for an alien fiancée and his or her children, if any.
The links to the left will provide you with more information about specific areas of the immigration process. We invite you to navigate them, and to contact us for a free initial consultation about your case.