The family-based immigrant visa is one of the most common ways people acquire green cards and become permanent residents in the United States. Citizens and permanent residents may petition the USCIS to bring their family members into the country on an immigrant visa.
Currently, this particular visa program accounts for about two-thirds of the more than 1 million green cards issued annually. Just like every other immigrant visa, the family-based green card has several subcategories, each determined by the family relationship that exists between the sponsor and the beneficiary of the visa.
Types of Family-Based Green Cards
The family-based green card category is broadly grouped into two, namely the immediate relative category and the family preference category. Green card applications for each of these two groups are treated differently. The relationship between the visa petitioner and the beneficiary will determine the steps and processing time of the application.
Immediate Relative Immigrant (IR) Visas
This family-based visa type is issued to close relatives of U.S. citizens. The subcategory tops other types of family-based visas because there is no limit to how many can be issued in a year, and it also has the fastest adjudication process. Immediate relatives are categorized as follows:
- IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. citizen
- IR-2: A United States citizen’s unmarried child under the age of 21
- IR-3: An orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen
- IR-4: An orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen
- IR-5: A United States citizen’s parent who is at least 21 years of age
Family Preference Immigrant Visas
This is meant for certain family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Unlike the immediate relative subcategory, family preference green cards have a numerical limitation, and only a specified number can be issued each year.
Once the number has been reached for a particular fiscal year, other applicants will need to wait in visa line. The wait time can be for several months or years, depending on the visa backlogs in their category. Family preference green cards are:
Family First Preference (F1): This is for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their minor children. 23,400 visas are issued annually to applicants in this category.
Family Second Preference (F2): This is for spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (21 years and above) of lawful permanent residents. 114,200 visas are issued annually and up to 77% of the family-based green cards for the category usually go to the spouses and children. The remainder in the subcategory will be allocated to unmarried sons and daughters.
Family Third Preference (F3): This category is for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens as well as their spouses and minor children. The annual limit is 23,400.
Family Fourth Preference (F4): This is for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children. The U.S. citizen (petitioner) must be 21 years and above. This category has an annual limit of 65,000 visas.
Not married to your partner yet? Consider the K-1 Fiance Visa
With the K-1 fiancé(e) visa you have 90 days from the time the foreign partner comes to the U.S. to get married. Note that a K-1 visa holder upon arriving in the U.S. is not allowed to leave and re-enter on the same visa
Family-Based Green Card Processing Time for Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
Because there is no numerical limitation for this category, visas are always readily available for applicants, which also means a short processing time of 9 to 13 months. Once the I-130 petition filed by the petitioner (U.S. citizen) is approved by the USCIS, the immediate relative (IR) beneficiary will not have to wait in line for a visa number.
As stated above, this category is only meant for spouses, unmarried children (under 21 years old), and parents of U.S. citizens. If a child of a U.S. citizen is married, he or she will no longer qualify for this category even if he is under 21 years of age.
Family-Based Green Card Processing Time for Other Family Members of U.S. Citizens
While family members of U.S. citizens enjoy certain immigration processing preferences, those who don’t meet the definition of “immediate relatives” will have to pursue a family preference category.
For this set of people, there is no automatic availability of visas. After the approval of the I-130, the applicants will have to wait until there is a visa number available for them. The wait time for this subcategory can be up to 12 to 36 months. In some cases, it may even take 5 to 10 years.
Family-Based Green Card Processing Time for Family Members of Lawful Permanent Residents
As a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder), you are allowed to petition for your spouse or unmarried children to obtain green cards. Unlike a U.S. citizen, a green card holder is not permitted to petition for siblings, parents, or married children. The annual visa cap for the family members of green card holders is 114,200. The category is known as the second preference (F2), and it is split into two subcategories, namely F2A and F2B:
- F2A: This is for spouses and unmarried children (below 21 years old) of green card holders. Out of the available 114,200 visas, a total of 87,934 (77%) go in this subcategory.
- F2B: This is for unmarried children (21 years old and above) of green card holders. The remaining 23% of visas in the F2 category are allocated to this subcategory.
Family-based green card applicants under this category may also experience quite a long processing time of up to 12 months and above. And in some cases, it may be as long as 5 to 10 years.
Eligibility for Family-Based Green Card Sponsorship
There is more to just being a green card holder or U.S. citizen when determining eligibility for family-based green card sponsorship. Apart from the citizenship or LPR basic prerequisite, the following criteria must also be met:
- You must be able to establish that you have a close family relationship with the visa beneficiary. The relationship must be in one of the categories listed above under immediate relatives or family preference.
- You must maintain your principal residence in the United States.
- As a green card sponsor, you must prove your readiness and capability to support your sponsored family member financially after arriving in the United States. You will need to sign an affidavit of support, which must show that your annual income can take care of you, the sponsored beneficiary, and every other dependent member of your household.
The minimum income requirement for family-based green card sponsorship is 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Currently (2022), the required amount for a household of 2 is $22,887 for all 48 contiguous states. For each additional person, you will need to add $5,900.
For residents of Alaska and Hawaii, the amount for the same number of people is $28,612 and $26,325 and the required amount for each additional person is $7,375 and $6,787 respectively.
Family-Based Green Card Application Process
Applicants whose petitions fall under immediate relative (IR) immigrants enjoy faster processing time than those who are family preference immigrants. However, the procedures and documentation for both types are the same, and are as follows:
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
The first step in a family-based green card application is the I-130 petition, which must be filed with the USCIS by a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. The I-130 is filed to establish the familial relationship that exists between the petitioner and the beneficiary.
After receiving the petition, the USCIS will process it and determine if all the family-based green card eligibility criteria are met by both the petitioner and the beneficiary. Once the I-130 petition is approved and there is an available immigrant visa for the category, then the visa beneficiary will need to take the next step by either applying for status adjustment or going through consular processing. This will depend on whether the sponsored family member is in the United States or abroad.
Green Card Processing for Family Members in the U.S.
This process is known as adjustment of status, in which you will need to file the I-485 with the USCIS. This is your main green card application after establishing a qualifying familial relationship with I-130 petition. It must be filled along with all the required documents attached.
The I-485 and I-130 forms can be submitted simultaneously by applicants who are immediate relatives, meaning that their category does not have numerical limitations.
Green Card Processing for Family Members Outside the U.S.
This is known as consular processing. In this case, the approved I-130 will be forwarded to the appropriate embassy or consulate in the country where you (the beneficiary) reside. Both the petitioner and beneficiary will be notified when the petition reaches the embassy or consulate.
The notification will also contain when and how to proceed with your green card process through consular processing. These next steps involve a one-on-one interview with a consular officer to verify your eligibility. The required form for this is the DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration.
Other steps involved:
- Medical examination and receiving the required vaccinations
- Attending the green card interview. The consulate will notify you of the date and location of your visa interview after filling the above forms.
- Receiving the immigrant visa packet, which you will be given if your application is approved after your interview. This will allow you to travel to the U.S.
- Traveling to the U.S. The visa packet issued to you at the embassy is only permission to travel. You must prove to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at a U.S. port of entry (POE), that you are admissible into the United States. Upon your arrival at the POE, the CBP officer will inspect your visa packet and grant you entry as a permanent resident.
- Receiving your green card. After a few weeks in the U.S. (usually within 45 days), the USCIS will mail your family-based green card to you.
Required Documentation for Family-Based Green Card
For both immediate relative and family preference sponsorship, the following are general documents that will be needed for green card processing:
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond the intended date of entry into the U.S.
- Affidavit of support
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate, if applicable
- Marriage termination documentation, if applicable
- Immigration medical examination form
- Two passport photographs. Must meet the DOS photo requirements
You may be asked to submit other documents depending on your case or the embassy in charge of your visa. Make sure that you visit the website of the embassy to be sure.
Annual Visa Cap and Priority Date for Family-Based Green Cards
All family preference green card petitions are subject to numerical limitation. And in most cases, the number of qualified applicants is higher than the available immigrant visas for each of the categories. In this case, the available visas are issued in chronological order in which the petitions were submitted.
To ensure a level playing ground for all applicants, the National Visa Center (NVC) considers different factors, such as each category’s annual cap, filing date, and country of origin when adjudicating green card applications. This is all determined by something called your “priority date.”
Your green card priority date is the date that the USCIS receives your I-130 petition. It can be described as your place in the green card waiting line and will need to be considered current before you can continue your green card processing. Your priority date can be found on the Notice of Action (I-797) approval of I-130 that was mailed to you by the USCIS.
Your priority date becomes “current” when your priority date matches or passes the “final action date” posted in the most recent visa bulletin by the Department of State.
Note: Priority dates are not relevant for immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens (e.g., spouses or minor children) as that category is always current.
Can You Shorten Your Waiting Time?
The sponsoring family member can also expedite the process by filing both the I-130 and the I-485 adjustment of status application at the same time, as long as the beneficiary is in the U.S. The other way to take some time off of the overall processing period is to opt for premium processing for the forms that allow it (I-129 and I-140). The cost for premium processing is $2,500.
How VisaNation Law Group Can Help
Over the past few years, immigration wait times have doubled. Currently, millions of applicants are waiting for green cards and there are strong indications that the number will keep rising. However, with the help of a family-based green card attorney lawyer, you can expedite the process and avoid delays.
VisaNation Law Group will help you prepare your petitions and documentation the best way and avoid RFEs that can prolong the process. Their experienced family-based immigration attorneys will also guide you through the interview process. You can schedule a consultation today by filling out this contact form.