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The Family-Based Immigration Process: Green Cards for Spouse, Children, Parents and Siblings

U.S. immigration law provides that certain family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can be petitioned for immigration benefits. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), family-based immigrants have been split into the immediate relative category and several preference categories. Immediate relatives are processed for immigrant visas much quicker. The length of time from petition filing to final immigration depends upon which category the immigrant falls into. In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of many years before immigration is possible. The categories are summarized as follows:

  • Immediate Relatives are the spouse, parent, or child (under 21) of a citizen
  • First Preference immigrants are made up of unmarried sons and daughters of citizens
  • Second Preference immigrants are the spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) residents
  • Third Preference immigrants are the married sons and daughters of citizens
  • Fourth Preference immigrants are the brothers and sisters of citizens

How Can I Help a Qualifying Family Member Immigrate?

STEP ONE: The first step is the filing of and approval of a family-based petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A citizen must be 21 or older in order to petition a sibling or parent. A citizen or resident can file a petition for a spouse at an earlier age under certain circumstances, however, the petitioner must be 18 years of age in order to comply with the affidavit of financial support requirement.

After Approval of the Visa Petition

STEP TWO: Following USCIS approval of the petition, the process varies as to whether the applicant is in the U.S., or will apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside of the U.S. Assuming the applicants are outside of the U.S., at this point the National Visa Center of the Department of State will begin processing the paperwork, including possibly requesting additional documentation. The spouse (including same-sex spouse) and minor unmarried children of the visa applicant may also obtain immigrant visas and will also be asked to submit further documentation at this time. NOTE: Children that have “aged-out”, that is, they are over 21 when the principal applicant receives their visa, may still be protected under the Child Status Protection Act.

Visa or Green Card Interview

STEP THREE: Once the NVC is satisfied that the immigrant’s file is ready for embassy processing and the immigrant’s applicable category is open for processing, the NVC will work with the embassy in the immigrant’s home country to send over the file and schedule an immigrant visa interview. Approximately 3-10 weeks later, the applicant will be scheduled for an interview at the embassy or consulate. NOTE: if the applicant is in the U.S. and qualifies for adjustment of status, the National Visa Center will need to be notified, and the applicant may not need to depart the U.S. in order to receive a Green Card. If an applicant qualifies for an immigrant visa, the Embassy Officer will approve the visa following the in-person interview.

Ineligibilities for a Visa

There a number of factors in a visa applicant’s history that might cause him or her to be ineligible for a visa, including previous instances of:

  • Criminal activity anywhere in the world
  • Immigration fraud (such as lying to an officer at the Embassy or submitting fraudulent documents)
  • Overstaying a visa or entering the U.S. without authorization in the past
  • Previous Deportation from the U.S.

If the visa applicant is approved for the immigrant visa, they will be given paperwork which is to be submitted at Customs and Border Patrol upon arrival at the airport in the U.S. Weeks later, the Green Cards will appear in the mail. Note that the description above is a simple and straightforward case, but complications may always be present. Consult with an experienced immigration attorney for questions regarding your specific situation and have the case prepared properly to avoid delays and complications.

Click here for information regarding visa refusals. Further information about eligibility for a waiver of an inadmissibility is available here.

If you are in the U.S. and have been abused by your citizen family member, certain provisions of the Violence Against Women Act may provide immigration relief.

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