Understanding the visa process for immediate relatives

For many U.S. citizens, sponsoring a close family member for permanent residence is a fulfilling way to reunite loved ones. However, the process can be complex and confusing.

Who qualifies as an immediate relative?

U.S. citizens can sponsor a select group of family members classified as immediate relatives. This category includes spouses, unmarried children under 21 years old, and parents (as long as the sponsoring U.S. citizen is over 21). There are no yearly caps on visas available for immediate relatives, offering a significant advantage over other family-based immigration options.

The visa process application

Sponsoring an immediate relative for a green card involves several steps.

  • Petition for alien relative (Form I-130): The U.S. citizen initiates the process by filling out Form I-130 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This petition establishes the relationship between the U.S. citizen and the relative seeking permanent residence.
  • National Visa Center (NVC) and case processing: Once USCIS approves the I-130 petition, the case goes to the NVC. The NVC collects fees and coordinates further processing with the U.S. embassy or consulate in the relative’s home country. Processing times can vary depending on the workload at the specific consulate, but generally takes less than a year for immediate relatives.
  • Consular processing or adjustment of status: These are two primary avenues for obtaining a green card. Consular processing applies to relatives living outside the U.S. They will undergo medical examinations, attend interviews at the U.S. consulate, and, upon approval, receive an immigrant visa to enter the U.S. and finalize their green card status. On the other hand, adjustment of status applies to immediate relatives who are already legally present in the U.S. They can file for adjustment of status without leaving the country, provided they meet specific eligibility criteria.
  • Green card interview and issuance: The final decision will follow the medical exam and interview (for consular processing) or the adjustment of status of application review. If approved, the relative will receive their green card, granting them permanent residence in the U.S.

While this information can be helpful, it is still important to do more research regarding immigrating your immediate family to the U.S.

The USCIS offers extensive resources and online tools to guide you each step of the way. With careful planning and with the help of legal guidance, reuniting with your loved ones in the U.S. through this process may become a reality.