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.” There are only two groups who are eligible for family visas:
spouses of U.S. citizens
unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens
orphans adopted abroad
to be adopted in the U.S., by U.S. citizens
parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old.
Family preference categories:
Relatives of U.S. citizens:
Unmarried adult children and their minor children (“F1”)
Married children and their spouses and minor children (“F3”)
Siblings and their spouses and minor children (“F4”)
Relatives of lawful permanent residents:
Spouses and unmarried minor children (“F2A”)
Unmarried adult children (“F2B”)
U.S. citizens and LPRs cannot sponsor other family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins for immigration.
In order to start family-based immigration process on behalf of a family member, 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. The immigrant must also submit declaration of self-sufficiency to demonstrate that he or she will not likely become a public charge who will need public assistance.
K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa
A US citizen (sponsor) may be able to bring his or her fiancé(e) to the United States prior to getting married. The sponsor and his or her fiancé(e) must prove that they have met in person at least once prior to the fiancé(e)’s arrival in the US. The petition is processed initially with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with final processing completed at the US Embassy or Consulate abroad where the fiancé(e) appears for an interview with the Consular officer. Once the fiancé(e) arrives in the United States, the couple MUST marry within 90 days of entry, otherwise the fiancé(e) has violated his or her nonimmigrant visa status. If the K-1 visa holder enters the United States and does not get married to the sponsor within 90 days, he or she must leave the U.S. Moreover, if the K-1 visa holder does not leave the U.S., he or she will not be able to change his/her K-1 status to another non-immigrant status and will not be able to adjust his/her status to a permanent resident even if he/she marries another U.S. citizen later (approved VAWA petition is an exception)
K-3/ K-4 Visas
A US citizen may be able to bring his/her spouse or a child to the U.S. under this temporary visa, prior to issuance of Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status. The beneficiary of the K-3 visa petition must be married to the U.S. citizen. A Child Beneficiary of K-4 Visa must be born to the US citizen, adopted before the age of 16, or a stepchild when the marriage to the biological parent took place before the child was 18 years old. The K-3/K-4 Petition must be filed with USCIS and later completed at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad where the immigrant was married to the U.S. citizen (not the place of residence). If the marriage took place in the U.S., then the interview can be held in the foreign national’s country of residence. K-3/K-4 Visas are valid for 2 years.
Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), immigrants (in lawful or unlawful status) may be eligible to become lawful permanent residents (get a Green Card) if they are the victims of battery or extreme cruelty committed by:
A U.S. citizen spouse or former spouse;
A U.S. citizen parent;
A U.S. citizen son or daughter;
A lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or former spouse; or
An LPR parent.
Criteria for VAWA self-petition visa:
immigrant is spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (LPR) or
marriage was terminated either by death or divorce within the two years before filing your petition, or
the abuser lost or relinquished citizenship or permanent resident status within the two years before submitting your request
immigrant believed that he or she was in legal marriage and entered in the marriage in good faith, regardless of his or her immigration status;
immigrant suffered battery or extreme cruelty by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse;
immigrant entered into the marriage with the abuser in good faith, and not because of the immigration benefits.
immigrant resided with U.S. or LPR spouse.
immigrant has a good moral character.
In most situations, family sponsored cases begin with the filing of an Immigrant Relative Petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Once that is approved, and the priority date is current for the appropriate category, there are two options for getting Resident Alien status for the family member:
Adjustment of Status – If the family member is in the U.S., and petition priority visa date is currently available, and there are no bars to filing adjustment of status for the person, all paperwork is filed at USCIS. The family member must be physically present and residing in the US to be eligible, and he/she will be unable to travel after filing without prior approved travel document. Within about 2-3 months from the date of filing of the Adjustment of Status petition, the family member will receive employment authorization document (EAD) and will be able to work while his/her application is pending.
Consular Processing – This involves filing all immigrant visa paperwork through the U.S. Consulate of the immigrant’s citizenship or country of current legal residence. An interview and personal appearance at the Consulate for the entire family is required.
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