In this article, you can learn about:
- The process of applying for a family-based visa.
- Who the USCIS considers as family members in visa applications.
The role of sponsors and family members in visa applications.
- The process and timeline of applying for a family-based visa.
- Who the USCIS considers as a family in visa applications – and how certain family members’ visa applications will take less time than others.
- What to expect as a sponsor of a family-based visa.
Who Is Eligible To Apply For A Family-Based Visa?
Family visas are available to immigrants at different “levels” of relation.
The first level of family relationship that qualifies for these visas are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (LPR).
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) considers an immediate relative to be:
- Children under the age of 21
A child over the age of 21 is one degree removed from “immediate relative” status, so there are extra considerations to be made in these cases. However, those cases can still result in a fairly quick process. Any family relationship past the first level of immediate relatives can take an incredibly long time – even up to 12 years or longer. Because of this, my firm usually focuses on assisting with family-based visas for an immediate relative.
(In any situation, I am able to provide legal counsel and representation. For the purposes of this article, I will only focus on immediate relatives as it is the most common situation. However, if you have any questions about your family-based visa application, please don’t hesitate to contact my firm.)
Again, the USCIS considers immediate relatives to be spouses, children, and parents of citizens and LPRs.
Once you have determined whether or not your family member is eligible for this type of visa, you can begin the application process. This is done when an LPR or U.S. citizen petitions (applies) for the intending immigrant. This may be a person that they want to bring to the U.S. or a person that is in the country who wants to become an LPR.
If the intending immigrant is outside of the U.S., they will have an interview with the U.S. consulate in their country of origin. If the intending immigrant is already in the U.S., their interview will be with USCIS.
What Constitutes Family When It Comes To Family-Based Visas?
USCIS considers first-tier immediate relatives to be spouses, parents, and children under the age of 21.
There is no limit on the number of family-based visas awarded to immediate relatives each year. Because of this, these visas process rather quickly because applicants don’t have to wait for a visa to become available.
If the intended immigrant is a child over the age of 21 (whether or not they are married), the application can be completed anywhere within a few months to three years.
Brothers and sisters of citizens and LPRs are also usually eligible for family-based visas. However, the U.S. has a limit on the number of these visas that they issue each year. Because of this, the waiting period can take up to 10 years or longer.
Who Is Eligible To Be A Visa Sponsor?
Visa sponsors are U.S. citizens or LPRs that are related to the intending immigrant. Usually, sponsors are immediate relatives of the intended immigrant: such as their spouse, parent, or child.
Alternatively, sponsors may be a person who is not a “household member” or immediate relative. This list of eligible sponsors includes U.S. citizens and LPRs who are:
- Family Friends
- Aunts and Uncles
- And more . . .
At the bottom line, a sponsor is a person who is willing to sign an I-864 Affidavit of Support. This is a contract between the sponsor and the immigrant that lasts for 10 years. It testifies that the sponsor will have an income of 125% above the federal poverty line — depending on the size of their household.
To start the immigration process, the sponsor will file an I-864 form along with three years of tax information to provide proof of income.
Can My Family Member Come To The United States To Live While The Visa Petition Is Pending?
If an intending immigrant is in another country when a visa petition has started, they will not be able to enter the U.S. until their application is approved.
Instead, they will have to wait to have an interview with the U.S. Consular Office in the country they want to leave.
In other cases, intending immigrants may already be in the U.S.
Sometimes, people come to the country on a visa for school, work, etc. and before their visa expires, they marry or have a relative petition for them. In these situations, intending immigrants can stay during the visa petition process — as long as the application is started before their temporary visa expires.
Other intending immigrants may already be in the U.S. without ever having had a visa. For example, some immigrants come to the U.S. undetected or by being released into the country without a visa.
These immigrants are also able to stay in the country while their visa petition is pending. They will, however, need to take an extra step — by applying for a waiver.
There are three types of waivers offered by USCIS. The most common of these is a Waiver of Inadmissibility, which is for individuals who are in the U.S. without a visa.
Once the waiver has been approved, the immigrant would need to leave the U.S. and interview with the U.S. Consulate in their home country. Then, only after the interview will they be issued a visa and be able to return to the U.S.
One of the most important things for anyone pursuing a family-based visa is to have access to experienced legal counsel. I understand that family is what matters most, and I make a commitment to my clients to remain accessible and available through each step of the process.