Overview - Family Based Immigrant Visas
Two groups of family based immigrant visa categories, including immediate relatives and family preference categories, are provided under the provisions of United States immigration law, specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas (Unlimited): These visa types are based on a close family relationship with a United States (U.S.) citizen described as an Immediate Relative (IR). The number of immigrants in these categories is not limited each fiscal year. Immediate relative visa types include;
IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. Citizen Learn More
IR-2: Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen
IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen Learn More
IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen Learn More
IR-5: Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old
Family Preference Immigrant Visas (Limited): These visa types are for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). There are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants, shown at the end of each category. The family preference categories are;
Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. (23,400)
Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs. At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters. (114,200)
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 U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor 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 Preference Categories
Whenever the number of qualified applicants for a category exceeds the available immigrant visas, there will be an immigration wait. In this situation, the available immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed using their priority date. The filing date of a petition becomes what is called the applicant's priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant's priority date is reached. In certain categories with many approved petitions compared to available visas, there may be a waiting period of several years, or more, before a priority date is reached. Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates.
Returning Resident Immigrant Visas (SB) - A lawful permanent resident (LPR) who has remained outside the U.S. for longer than twelve months, or beyond the validity period of a re-entry permit, will require a new immigrant visa to enter the U.S. and resume permanent residence. A provision exists under U.S. visa law for the issuance of a returning resident special immigrant visa to an LPR who remained outside the U.S. due to circumstances beyond his/her control. For more information about international travel as a LPR, and returning resident immigrant visas, visit our Returning Resident webpage.
The First Step toward an Immigrant Visa: Filing a Petition
As the first step, a sponsoring relative must file a Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130 with the Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS).
In certain circumstances, a U.S. citizen living abroad can file a petition for an immediate relative category at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate or with USCIS overseas, when the U.S. citizen petitioner has been a resident there continuously for the preceding 6 months and has host country permission to reside there. For further details review the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you would apply.
U.S. Sponsor Minimum Age Requirement
U.S. citizens must be age 21 or older to file petitions for siblings or parents. There is no minimum age for a sponsor to file petitions for all other categories of family based immigrant visas. However, you must be 18 years of age and have a residence (domicile) in the U.S. before you can sign the Affidavit of Support, Form I-864 or I-864-EZ. This form is required for an immigrant visa for spouses and other relatives of U.S. sponsors.
Is Residence in the U.S. Required for the U.S. Sponsor?
Yes. As the U.S. sponsor, you must maintain your principal residence (also called domicile) in the U.S., with the intention to maintain that residence for the foreseeable future. Maintaining a domicile in the U.S. is required for a U.S. sponsor to file the Affidavit of Support, with few exceptions. To learn more review the Affidavit of Support Instructions (I-864EZ, or I-864 Country of Domicile section, Page 5).
If You Were an LPR and Are Now a U.S. Citizen: Upgrading a Petition
If you filed a petition for your spouse and/or minor children when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR), and you are now a 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 U.S. citizenship to the National Visa Center (NVC). You should send:
A copy of the biodata page of your U.S. passport; or
A copy of your certificate of naturalization
Important Notice: If you upgrade a family second preference (F2) petition for your spouse and you did not file separate petitions for your minor children when you were a LPR, you must do so now. A child is not included in an immediate relative (IR) petition. (This is different from the family second preference (F2) petition, which includes minor children in their parent's F2 petition.
Children born abroad after you became a U.S. citizen may qualify for U.S. citizenship. They should apply for U.S. passports. The consular officer will determine whether your child is a U.S. citizen and can have a passport. If the consular officer determines your child is not U.S. citizen, the child must apply for an immigrant visa if he/she wants to live in the U.S.
Next Steps - Fees, Affidavit of Support and Visa Application
After USCIS approves the petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once received, the NVC will assign a case number for the petition. When an applicant’s priority date meets the most recent qualifying date, the NVC will send the Choice of Address and Agent, Form DS-3032 to the applicant, if an attorney or agent will be used. NVC will begin pre-processing the applicant’s case by contacting 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 documents be submitted to the NVC, including the Affidavit of Support, Immigrant Visa Applicant, civil documents and more. Learn more about National Visa Center visa case processing.
What Fees Can I Expect?
Fees are charged for the following services:
Filing an immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, form I-130
Processing an immigrant visa application, for DS-230. .(see Note below)
Reviewing an I-864, I-864W or I-864EZ Affidavit of Support (for petitions filed in the U.S.).
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.
For current fees for Department of State government services, select Fees.
Note: Fees must be paid for each intending immigrant regardless of age, and are not refundable. Fees should not be sent to the consular office unless requested specifically.
Paying Fees to the National Visa Center
Follow these important steps when paying the Affidavit of Support and immigrant visa processing fees:
Don't pay the bill until the NVC tells you to do so
Follow the fee payment instructions on NVC's Immigrant Visa Processing webpage.
Don't send payments to the NVC at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
In general, the following documents are required:
Passport(s) valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the U.S.
Affidavit of Support (I-864, I-864 EZ or I-864W, as appropriate) from the petitioner/sponsor
Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, Form DS-230, both Part I and Part II
Two photographs. See the photograph requirements.
Civil Documents for the applicant (and petitioner in IR-5 and F4 cases).Documents in foreign languages should be translated. See Applicant Documents for more specific information about documentation requirements. The consular officer may ask for more information. Take clear, legible photocopies of civil documents and translations, such as birth and marriage certificates, to the immigrant visa interview. Original documents and translations can then be returned to you.
Completed Medical Examination Forms – These are provided by the panel physician after you have successfully completed your medical examination and vaccinations (see below).
Once the NVC determines the file is complete with all the required documents, they schedule the applicant’s interview appointment and send the petition and all documentation to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant will be interviewed for a visa. The applicant, petitioner, attorney and third-party agent, if applicable, will receive appointment emails, or letters (if no email address is available), containing the date and time of the applicant's visa interview along with instructions for obtaining a medical examination.
Applicants should bring their valid passports, as well as any other documentation above not already provided to NVC, to their visa interviews. During the interview process, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken. Applicants will receive their original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.
Medical Examination and Vaccinations
Important Notice: In preparing for your interview, you will need to schedule and complete your medical examination and any required vaccinations before your visa interview. Before the issuance of an immigrant visa, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination which must be performed by an authorized panel physician. Applicants are provided instructions by NVC regarding their medical examination including information on authorized panel physicians. See Medical Examination for more information, including a list of panel physicians by country, and frequently asked questions.
U.S. immigration law requires immigrant visa applicants to obtain certain vaccinations prior to the issuance of an immigrant visa. See IV Vaccination Requirements for the list of required vaccinations and additional information.
How Long Does it Take?
Many approved immigrant petitions take additional time because they are in numerically limited categories. 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.
Ineligibilities for a Visa - What if the Applicant is Ineligible for a Visa?
Certain conditions and activities may make you, the applicant, ineligible for a visa. 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 U.S.
When You Have Your Immigrant Visa- What Should You Know?
If you are issued an immigrant visa, the consular officer will give you your passport containing the immigrant visa and a sealed packet containing the documents which you provided. It is important that you do not open the sealed packet. Only the DHS immigration official should open this packet when you enter the U.S. You are required to enter the U.S. before the expiration date printed on your visa. When traveling, the primary (or principal) applicant must enter the U.S. before or at the same time as family members holding visas.
Entering the U.S. - Port of Entry
A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the U.S. port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. The DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the U.S. Travelers should review important information about admissions and entry requirements on the CBP website under Travel.
How to Apply for a Social Security Number Card
The U.S. sponsor can help learn how to apply for a social security number card. To learn more about this process, visit the website for the Social Security Administration.