Family-based immigration allows a foreign national (any person other than a US citizen) to become a lawful permanent resident through a relative who is a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States. Both the immigrant and the U.S. citizen or permanent resident must successfully complete the immigration process to allow the foreign national to come to live and work permanently in the U.S. The U.S. citizen or permanent resident must sponsor the foreign national, showing that he or she has adequate income or assets to support the immigrant when he or she enters the U.S.

Family-based immigrants are specified as brothers and sisters and adult or married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, or spouse of a U.S. permanent resident helping his/her family members (spouse, fiancé, child, parent, or brother or sister) to become a permanent resident of the U.S. It may appear straightforward, but there are many shades in each type of family-based visa. Permanent immigration or lawful permanent residency in the U.S. comes with a variety of rights and privileges including the right to permanently live and work in the U.S. The USCIS must allow an immigrant visa petition, I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, for you. This petition is registered by your relative (sponsor) and must be followed by proof of your relationship to the asking relative.

The Department of State must ascertain if an immigrant visa number is immediately available to you, and also if you are already in the United States. When an immigrant visa number is available then you can apply to have that number assigned to you. If you are already living in the United States, you may enforce to change your status to that of a lawful permanent resident after a visa number becomes available to you. This is one way you can apply to secure an immigrant visa number. If you are living outside the United States, when an immigrant visa number becomes available, you must then go to the U.S. consulate service in the area in which you reside to complete your processing.
If you want to immigrate to the U.S. through the family-based category, your relative who is either a U.S. Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident must sponsor you.

Procedure to Apply for Family-Based Immigration

  • Your sponsor must submit Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) for you at a USCIS center, along with documentation to prove that:
    • He/She is a Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident of the U.S.
    • He/She can support you at 125% above the mandated poverty line and fill out an Affidavit of Support.
    • You are related to him/her.
  • Once USCIS receives your visa petition from your sponsor, it will be approved or denied. In the event that the petition is approved, USCIS will notify your sponsor.
  • USCIS then sends the approved visa petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center. The Center will notify you when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available. The immigrant visa numbers are allotted on the basis of the Preference Categories (described below). You can check your visa number allotment status in the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin.

Note: You need to contact the National Visa Center only if:

  • You change your address;
  • There is a change in your personal situation or that of your sponsor that may affect the eligibility for an immigrant visa for you – such as attaining the age of 21 years, marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse; or
  • If you are already in the U.S. when an immigrant visa number is allotted to you, you can apply to change your status to that of a Lawful Permanent Resident. If you are not in the U.S. when an immigrant visa number becomes available, you must complete the processing of your application at the U.S. Consulate that services the area in which you reside.

Preference Categories

There are several preference categories for allotting of immigrant visa numbers based on the status of the sponsor.

  • Immediate Allotment: Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number. Once the application is approved by USCIS, they are allotted a number immediately. Immediate relatives include the sponsor’s – parents, spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 years.
  • First Preference: Unmarried adult (above the age of 21 years) sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
  • Second Preference: Spouses of Lawful Permanent Residents and their unmarried sons and daughters of any age.
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.