Family immigration is the primary basis for legal immigration to the United States. Under current immigration law, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) can sponsor certain family members for a visa that provides permanent residence, also known as a “green card.” Since the time of our first colonies in the 17th century, immigration has been family-based, but the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965 formally set family ties as the main way people immigrate to America. Today family visas account for about 65 percent of legal immigration each year.
Who is eligible for a family visa?
There are only two groups who are eligible for family visas:
- Immediate relatives: 1) spouses of U.S. citizens; 2) unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens; 3) orphans adopted abroad, 4) orphans to be adopted in the U.S., by U.S. citizens; and
- Parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old.
Family preference categories:
- unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their children;
- spouses, minor children and unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of LPRs;
- married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children and
- brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years old.
Note: U.S. citizens and LPRs cannot sponsor other family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins for immigration.
What are the requirements for family visas?
A sponsor in the U.S., an application, numerous screenings and background checks, interview, fee and medical examination. The sponsoring relative, who must be over the age of 18 (in some cases 21) and reside in the U.S., is first required to file a petition for his or her family member(s) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In this petition, they must prove the legitimacy of their relationship and that they meet income requirements. The sponsor must also submit a signed affidavit of support stating that he or she will be financially responsible for the applicant(s). Each prospective immigrant then undergoes extensive background and security checks, including criminal, national security, health-related and other screenings. USCIS also examines all the green card applications to determine the immigrant will not likely become a public charge who will need public assistance.
After USCIS approves the petition, they send it to the National Visa Center (NVC), which directs the applicant to complete certain forms and submit appropriate documents and pay the fees. Once the NVC receives all the required documents, a U.S. Embassy or Consulate officer interviews the applicant to determine his or her eligibility. All applicants must also undergo a medical examination performed by an authorized physician and obtain certain vaccinations before the government will issue the visa.