Written by Avvo Staff

How US citizens can sponsor relatives for family visas

You can petition for your spouse, children, siblings, or parents get a family visa.

In the United States, one of the most well-known routes to a green card is through a process called family sponsorship. To sponsor a family member, a US citizen files a petition that states they are related to the immigrant and an affidavit that proves you can financially support them.

The procedures and requirements for immigration via a family visa will vary greatly depending upon the type of familial relationship between the immigrating person and the sponsoring citizen.

This guide will break down the basics for a variety of different family visa petitions. However, immigration law results can vary greatly depending on the circumstances and details of a particular case. Contact an attorney before you begin the sponsorship process.

Sponsorship by immediate relatives

There are 3 types of immediate relatives under immigration law. These includes spouses, children under 21, and parents. Immediate relatives of US citizens can acquire permanent residency more quickly, though the requirements differ between the 3 groups.


A US citizen can sponsor their spouse as long as their marriage is valid. As of 2016, USCIS has categorized same-sex marriages as equivalent to opposite-sex marriages.

To sponsor your spouse, you must file Form I-130 with USCIS. This form must include several accompanying documents, including a valid copy of a civil marriage license.

You must also file Form I-864 to show financial support for the immigrating spouse. The immigrating person and sponsoring spouse may either file an I-485 form with USCIS at the same time, or wait until the I-130 is approved and file Form I-485.

Unmarried Children Under 21

A citizen may sponsor their children as immediate family members. This process applies primarily to genetic and step children, and some instances of adopted children. However, petitions for adopted children usually follow other methods.

The sponsoring parent must file Form I-130 with supporting documentation, which will differ depending on the type of parental relationship they have to the immigrating child. Additionally, the I-864 must be filed to show financial support for the immigrating family member. An I-485 may be filed at the same time, or afterwards to adjust status.


Only a US Citizen over 21 years old may sponsor their parents as immediate family members, this route is not available for parents of LPRs.

The sponsor must file Form I-130 with supporting documentation proving their relationship to their parents. An I-864 must be filed showing financial support for the immigrating parent. The immigrating parent must file Form I-485, either at the time the I-130 is filed or afterwards in order to transition to legal permanent resident status

Family Preference Category – Non-immediate relatives

Congress has put a limit on the number of family visas that may be granted each year for non-immediate family members. As a result, non-immediate relative, or relatives in the family preference category, can only acquire a family visa after being placed on a waiting list. The family preference category includes the following types of relatives for US citizens:

  • Unmarried children over age 21
  • Married children
  • Brothers and sisters

In all of these circumstances, the sponsoring citizen must file Form I-130 and I-864 with USCIS. The supporting documentation differs, but you must prove the relationship between the sponsor and immigrant family member by providing the documents required by USCIS. At this point, the immigrant family member is placed on a waiting list. Wait times vary widely, and are reviewed with different levels of priority depending upon the type of relative.

After the I-130 has begun to be reviewed by USCIS, the immigrant must file Form I-485 to adjust the family visa into green card status.

What is consular processing?

If the immigrating family member is outside of the United States at the time of filing then USCIS will work with the US Department of State to review the petition. This is referred to as consular processing. It is important to note whether or not your case will proceed through consular processing, as it may change the means by which you submit your documentation, and will almost certainly change the time it takes for a decision to be made on your case.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer