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How family-based visas work

The United States makes some provisions in immigration law for US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to sponsor particular relatives to enter the country on family-based visas. This practice is often the first legal step for an immigrant who is seeking to become a citizen.

Categories of family visas

There are several designations for which family members can qualify for family visas:

  • Immediate relatives of US citizens: The family members that are eligible for these visas include spouses, unmarried children under 21 and adopted orphans. The number of immediate relatives who can file visa applications each year is unlimited.
  • Immediate relatives of US citizens (if the citizen is over 21): A US citizen, over the age of 21, can petition a visa for siblings and parents.
  • Immediate relatives of US lawful permanent residents: The relatives of LPRs that qualify for a visa petition are spouses and unmarried children. 
  • Family preference immigrants: The US offers these visas for more distant family members of US citizens, as well as some specified relationships to lawful permanent residents. These visas are limited per fiscal year.

Legal requirements

A US citizen has to file a petition for a family member, prove their relation, then submit a signed affidavit of support before the family member can apply, pay processing and legal fees, go through screenings, background checks, interviews, and medical exams.

Keeping families together

Generally, US citizens and lawful permanent residents are not permitted to sponsor extended family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins, or a spouse’s parents. Even if a family member is eligible, it could take years for them to get a visa. Getting a visa for a family member is a long and arduous process. It would help if you had an attorney with deep experience in immigration law to guide you through this challenging process.