Are you a legal immigrant in the US looking to initiate the family-based immigration process? While it can be a complicated process, it is not impossible when you have the correct information to guide you.

Until today, family-based immigration remains a significant method by which immigrants move to the United States, reuniting with their loved ones and making a permanent home there. This process is governed by the US immigration law that stipulates who can come into the country, how long they can stay, and the benefits that they can access while they are in the country.

Kounsel recently hosted Ana Victoria Lopez, a family-based immigration attorney, to discuss the family-based immigration process. She also answered general questions about visas, green cards, naturalization, and immigration basics.

What is family-based immigration?

Family-based immigration process allows individuals living in the US to petition and sponsor their family's immigration to the United States. This is based on the Immigration and Nationality Act, allowing foreigners to move to the US-based on their relationship with a legal permanent resident or a US citizen.

Immigration petition form

If you have been living in the US legally and are now a permanent resident, you can bring your family members to the US solely based on your relationship.

It is different from other immigration routes because immigrants that take this route are more likely to quickly move up the socio-economic ladder than others. This means that you have an increased chance of attaining the American dream if you come through a petition from your relative.

How does family-based immigration work?  

Family-based immigration needs two willing participants - a legal US citizen or permanent resident, who is the petitioner, and a beneficiary.

The petitioner sponsors a foreign family member's move to get a green card. In some cases, the beneficiary can have their spouse and children or other family members.

Immigrants under this process fall under two categories, namely: immediate relatives and family preferences. Immediate relatives are close relations and nuclear members of the sponsor's family. On the other hand, the family preference category covers other qualified relationships.

How does family-based immigration work?
Who can get family-based immigration visa

Note that while there is an unlimited number of immigrant visas for immediate relatives of US citizens, visa allocation for family preference immigrants is limited. That is because the US immigration law restricts the number of green cards available for the family preference immigrant category. That also leads to a longer wait time because of the backlog of waiting family members.

What documents are needed for family-based immigration visas?

Documents needed for the family-based immigration can vary, but here are documents that you should have at hand for a seamless visa appointment process:

Documents for family-based immigration visa

If any of these documents are not in English, applicants must provide translations of the document.

Family-based immigration process

Here are the steps to follow when a legal US citizen wants to sponsor a family member:

Family-based immigration process

Step 1: Filing the Petition

To begin the immigration process, the legal US citizen or permanent resident must file a USCIS Form I-130.

The Form I-130 will then be mailed to US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) and a document that proves their family connection to the foreigner.

Step 2: USCIS Decides

After filing the petition with the USCIS, the office reserves the right to approve or deny your request.

If the immigration request is approved, the USCIS will forward your file to the National Visa Center for processing. However, if the USCIS denies your request, you can file a new petition. If you are filing a new petition, determine what got your rejection and make changes to that effect in your new petition.

Step 3: Waiting for Visa Availability

This step only applies to those in the family preference category.

If your recipient is not an immediate family member, they are not eligible for immediate visa procurement. That means they will have to join a waiting list until their turn comes. The waiting period is usually for at least one year.

However, immediate family members can get their visas faster.

Step 4: Immigrant Applies for Permanent Residency & Green Card

After your petition has been approved, an immigrant must apply for an immigrant visa at a US consulate in their country. After the visa has been approved and made available, the immigrant can now come into the US.

Once they are in the US, they can apply for a green card. The process that follows is called the consular process. The immigrant will submit various documents during the consular process, fill out some forms, and do medical examinations.

how to apply for Permanent Residency & Green Card

How long does family-based immigration take?

The processing time for an I-130 filed by a sponsor is between 6-12 months. The petition is processed based on a first-come, first-served basis. So, that means that the longer the waiting list, the longer the processing time.

The only way to speed up the process is for your sponsor to submit the petition as soon as possible.

How long does family-based immigration take?

For family preference visas, the processing is determined by the priority date. The priority date is when the I-130 form is filled and submitted. The processing can take any time, from months to years.

When the family preference immigrant reaches the front of the line,  the priority date changes to current. An immigrant visa is then issued.

Family-based immigration visa categories

Just as there are two family-based immigrants, family-based immigration visas also come in different categories. These visa categories are based on the immigrant categories.

Immediate Relative. Here, visa types are issued based on a close family relationship with a legal US citizen or permanent resident.

Immediate Relative Visa types

Family Preference. Here, the type of visa issued is based on specific relationship metrics.  That is, how distant the family relationship is between the petitioner and the immigrant.

family preference visa

The visa process can be overwhelming, especially when you do not have the proper guidance and information. Kounsel has top-rated immigration lawyers in our counselor networks that can help you get started and walk you through the process.  

About Ana Victoria Lopez

Ana Victoria Lopez is a family-based immigration lawyer licensed in the State of New York.  As an immigrant, she is uniquely qualified to handle immigration matters and understands that your rights matter. You can connect with her on Kounsel.