Written by attorney Nicklaus James Misiti

Family-based immigrant visa categories

If you are a United States citizen, it is possible for you to apply for immigrant visas for your family. There are two types of family-based immigrant visa categories:

  1. immediate relatives, and
  2. family preference categories, which are provided for under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Immediate relative immigrant visa

The immediate relative immigrant visa is an unlimited visa that is based on close family relationships with a United States citizen called an immediate relative (IR). The number of immigrants in this category is unlimited each year. This category includes:

  • IR-1 visas, given to the spouse of a US citizen.

  • IR-2 visas, given to the unmarried child under 21 years of age of a US citizen.

  • IR-3 visas, given to an orphan adopted abroad by a US citizen.

  • IR-4 visas, given to to an orphan to be adopted in the United States by a US citizen.

  • IR-5 visas, given to the parent of a US citizen who is at least 21 years old.

As you can see, there are many options for visas which are given to immediate relatives of US citizens.

Family preference immigrant visa

The second type of visa category is the family preference immigrant visa. These visas are limited and given to more distant relatives of United States citizens In addition, some of these visas are reserved for family members of lawful permanent residents (LPR). There are limitations on the number of family preference immigrants allowed per year. It should also be noted that grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration. This category includes:

  • F1 visas, given to unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens and their minor children.

  • F2 visas, for spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters 21 and over of LPRs. About 77 percent of these visas go to the spouses and children and the remaining amount go to the unmarried sons and daughters of LPRs.

  • F3 visas, given to married sons and daughters of US citizens and their spouses and minor children.

  • F4 visas, given to brothers and sisters of US citizens, their spouses, and minor children.

There is also a numerical limitation on limited family-based visa categories. This is because the number of qualified applicants for a category often exceeds the available immigrant visas. This causes a wait time, in which the available immigrant visas will be issued in chronological order according to when the petitions were filed using their priority date. The filing date of a petition is the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas are not issued until the priority date is reached.

Receiving a family immigrant visa

To receive a family immigrant visa, one must begin by filing a petition for alien relative, which is form I-130 with the Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services.

However, the US citizen must be 21 or older to file a petition for siblings or parents. But there is no minimum age to file petitions for other family-based immigration visas. A US citizen must be at least 18 and have residence in the United States before one can sign an Affidavit of Support, form I-864, or I-864-EZ.

There are certain documents required for filing a petition. This includes passports, Affidavit of Support, Application for Immigrant Visa (which can also be filed online), two 2x2 photographs, civil documents, and completed medical examination forms.

A visa interview will follow when the NVC sends the application’s petition and documents to the United States embassy or consulate, where the applicant will be interviewed for a visa. The applicants should bring their passports and other documentation required to visa interview. Ink-free digital fingerprint scans will be taken at the interview and original civil documents and translations will be returned to the applicant after the interview.

The time it takes for the visa application process varies from case to case and is not predictable. However, some individuals may be ineligible for visas. Certain cases such as drug trafficking, overstaying a previous visa, and submitting fraudulent documents are cases are some examples where one may be ineligible to receive a visa. However, if you are ineligible for a visa, you may contact the consulate to see if there is a waiver available to you and what the waiver process is.

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