Family-based immigration is broken down into two basic categories: immediate relative immigrant visas and family preference immigrant visas. Immigrant visas are for paths to permanent residence in the United States, so family-based immigration is for people that (a) have family members that are U.S. citizens and (b) are coming to the country seeking permanent residence. Family-based visas are detailed under the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas (Unlimited)
Immediate relative immigrant visa types are for aliens with a close family relationship with a U.S. citizen. Unlike employment visas, the total number of immigrants allowed in the U.S. each fiscal year under the following categories is not limited. In other words, there is no maximum number of immigrant visas allowed by law for each.
The various types of immediate relative visas include:
- IR-1 Visa: Spouse of a U.S. Citizen
- IR-2 Visa: Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen
- IR-3 Visa: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen
- IR-4 Visa: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
- IR-5 Visa: Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old
Family Preference Immigrant Visas (Limited)
Family preference immigrant visas are for very specific, but more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen. There are also some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card holders) that are granted visas under this provision. Unlike immediate relative visas, the number family preference visas granted in the U.S. have fiscal year limitations.
The family preference immigrant visa categories include the following:
- Family First Preference (F-1 Visa): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. U.S. law allows for 23,400 visas in this category each year.
- Family Second Preference (F-2 Visa): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters of LPRs over age 21. At least 77 percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children. The remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters. The U.S. allows for up to 114,200 visas in this category each year.
- Family Third Preference (F-3 Visa): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses, and minor children. Each year, 23,400 visas may be issued for this category
- Family Fourth Preference (F-4 Visa): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, their spouses, and minor children as long as the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. This category has a yearly cap 65,000 visas issued.
Please keep in mind that neither grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, nor cousins can sponsor you for immigration under this provision.
The First Step: Filing a Petition
The first step towards filing for a family-based immigration visa is getting a sponsoring relative of yours to file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In certain circumstances, a U.S. citizen living abroad can file an immigrant visa petition outside the United States. You might want to check in with an immigration lawyer or expert on these matters when filing a Petition for Alien Relative.
Can My Family Members Also Get Immigrant Visas?
If your Form I-130 petition is approved, then your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old may apply for immigration visas along with you. They will need to fill out the required forms, pay the associated fees, and undergo the same medical examinations that you are required to do. Same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents, and their minor children, are now also eligible for the exact same immigration benefits as their opposite-sex spouse counterparts.