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How to apply for an immigration visa

Posted by attorney Carl Shusterman

If you are a foreign citizen who wants to immigrate to the US, you'll need to get an immigration visa. There are specific immigration laws and procedures that need to be followed during the immigration process, and not everyone who applies will be granted a visa to come to the US.

Who can apply for an immigration visa?

Generally, to be eligible for a US immigration visa, you must either be sponsored by a US citizen family member, or by a US employer. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program also makes a limited number of permanent resident visas available each year.

A family-based immigrant can be any one of the following:

  • Spouse
  • Sibling
  • Widow/widower
  • Unmarried child under the age of 21
  • Parent of a US citizen over the age of 21
  • Adult children (and their spouses and children) of US citizens
  • Spouses, minor children, and unmarried adult children of legal permanent residents

Employment-based visas are limited to 140,000 per year and are issued on a preferred basis to everyone from noted scientists, artists, educators, or athletes to skilled workers and business investors. There are also special immigration visas for people who need protection in the US, or people providing a unique and valuable service to the US government.

Immigration visa application process

If you plan to use employment as the basis of your immigration visa application, your employer in the US must do the following:

  1. File an approved immigration visa petition from the Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS).
  2. If a labor certification is required, your employer must get that first and then file a form I-140 (Petition for Prospective Immigrant Employee).
  3. When the I-140 is approved, the CIS will send it to the National Visa Center, which will then contact you.
  4. When the case is completed, the National Visa Center will notify your company, and send the case to the Immigrant Visa Unit.

If you are basing your immigration visa application on a family relationship, your relative in the US must submit form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). Once CIS approves the petition, they will send it to the National Visa Center, which will contact you.

Immigration visa interview

If you qualify for it, the final step to getting an immigration visa is the immigrant visa interview. A petition for a visa can't be considered until you have applied and been interviewed. Only you will be interviewed; your employer or family member in the US does not have to attend the interview.

You will also need to complete a medical exam, which you will have to schedule and pay for. If your visa has been approved and issued, you must enter the US within 6 months of the date your visa is issued.

Additional resources:

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services

United States Immigration Support

U.S. Department of State - Interview Preparation

Related Legal Guides:

Naturalization: Becoming a U.S. Citizen

Renewing Your Green Card

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