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Family-Based Immigrant Visas and Sponsoring a Relative

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you may be able to sponsor a family member for a
Permanent Resident Card (Green Card). Learn about the process and who is eligible.

Categories of people eligible for family immigrant visas:

Applying for a family-based immigrant visa is the first step in the process for the person you are sponsoring to become a permanent resident. There are two categories of this type of visa:

  • These visas are for close relatives of U.S. citizens, such as spouses, unmarriedImmediate relative children under 21, or parents. An unlimited number of visas are available for this visa category.

  • Family preference - A limited number of visas are set aside each year for:

    • Other relatives of a U.S. citizen, such as married children or siblings.

    • The spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 of legal permanent residents (Green Card holders)

How to apply for permanent residency for a family member:

To sponsor your family member, submit a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Form I-130. Each person you sponsor needs a separate Form I-130. You can submit the form online or by
mail. The process for your relative to immigrate to the U.S. requires that both you, as the sponsor, and
your relative, as the visa applicant, complete the necessary steps.

The process is different depending on whether your family member is already in the U.S. or abroad.


  • If your family member is in the U.S. - Learn about Adjustment of Status

  • If your family member is outside the U.S. - Learn the steps for Consular Processing

Submitting Form, I-130 is the first step of the immigration visa process. Learn what other steps are
involved, including:

  1. National Visa Center (NVC) processing

  2. Fee payments

  3. Required supporting documents.

  4. Interview preparation

There are a lot of people from various countries who want to immigrate to the US with a Green Card.
That is why the US has come up with different types of Green Cards of US immigrant visas that people
can apply for. The major categories are as follows:

  • Family Based Green Cards for people who want to join their families in the US.

  • Employment Based Green Cards for people who want to work in the US for a US employer.

  • Diversity Visa for people with low rate of immigration to the US

  • Returning Resident Visa for people who for reasons beyond their control could not return to renew their immigrant residence status.

This article will go through the Family Based Green Cards, what they are, the types, requirements, ways
to apply, and other relevant details.

What is a Family Based Green Card?

A Family Sponsored Green Card is an immigrant visa which allows the applicant to join their close
relatives in the US. Close relatives can be your spouse, children, parents, or siblings but more distant
relatives such as grandparents and cousins do not qualify.

Getting a Green Card through family means that you can move permanently to the US. You can live in
any state you want to, go to school, and work for a US employer. You are allowed to get a US driver’s
license, travel in and out of the US for specific periods of time, and if you do not violate the rules of your
visa, after a while you can also apply for a US citizenship.

Depending on the type of Family Based Green Cards, there can be annual limits on the number of visas
issued. If a visa has an annual limit or a cap, then the visas are processed in a chronological order. So, if
you have applied before the limit for that year has been reached then your application will be
processed. Otherwise, you must wait until the next year or until your turn comes.

What are the types of Family Based Green Cards?

There are various types of family Green Cards, and they are different based on the status of the person
who is your family and lives in the US. For those whose family in the US is a US citizen, the following
types of visas are applicable.

IR-1 visa for the spouse of a US citizen.
IR-2 visa for unmarried children under 21 years old of a US citizen.
IR-3 visa for children adopted abroad by a US citizen.
IR-4 visa for children to be adopted within the US by a US citizen.
IR-5 visa as a Green Card for parents of US citizens who are at least 21 years old.

These visas are called the Immediate Relative visas and they do not have an annual cap. This means that
anyone who applies will be processed regardless of the number of people before them if they meet the
requirements. If the family you have in the US are not US citizens, then they must be Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) or more distant relatives. 

These visas are called Family Preference visas, and they have annual limits on the number that can be
issued. The F-1 visa has an annual cap of 23,400 visas, the F-2 visa has 114,200 visas, the F-3 visa has
23,400 visas and the F-4 has 65,000 visas available each year. Once these limits are reached, then the
rest of the applicants will be processed in the years ahead.

What are the requirements for the Family Based Green Cards?

Since the Family Based Green Cards are different and apply to different people, the requirements also
vary. The main requirement for all of them is that the person who is in the US must have a valid US
address and their status must be verified. This means that they must have valid documents which prove
that they are either US citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents.

Additionally, the applicants must have no criminal records and must prove that they have family
relations with the person in the US. If the person in the US is the spouse, then they must present a valid
marriage certificate. If the relation is between children and parents or for siblings, then they must
present a valid birth certificate.

How to apply for Family Based Green Cards?

Because there are so many different Green Cards for families, the application procedure can also be
different. However, a general overview of the procedure can be found below. Most Family Based Green Card applications are divided in six steps: 

In general,

The US citizen/LPR petitions for their family to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
When the petition is approved, the family member from the foreign country must apply to a US Embassy
or Consulate in their home country.

This shows that the application procedure must start within the US, with the US citizen/LPR petitioning
to the authorities. The petition must be approved, otherwise, the applicant cannot begin applying to the
US Embassy for their visa.

1. Filing the Petition

The petition can be done by filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relatives. This petition must be filled out
by the US citizen/LPR in all the necessary sections and then submitted to USCIS. There is also a fee which
must be paid for the petition to be processed.

The petition will then go through the Department of Homeland Security and processed within a few
months. The petitioner will be notified about the status when the processing is complete. If the petition
is denied, USCIS will let you know what the reasons were for the denial. If the petition is approved, it will
then go to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will then be your main contact for the Family Based
Green Card.

The NVC will send a package with information and instructions to the applicant in the foreign country.
The package will also include the case number and invoice ID number which will be used to start the
application from the US Embassy or Consulate in the foreign country.

2. Applying for the IR-2 visa

For the Immediate Relative visas, there is no cap so there is no waiting time for the applicant to start
their process in the US Embassy or Consulate in their home country. However, for Family Preference
visas, the person must wait until their priority date is current for them to begin their application. The
application has these steps.

3. File Form DS-260

Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Electronic Application is the form which all applicants for immigrant visas
must submit. The application can be accessed by using the NVC case number which links it to your case
and the approved petition. The applicant or someone helping them must fill out all the necessary
sections, which will have questions related to the applicant’s information, background, and purpose of
immigrating to the US. When you submit the DS-260 form, you will get a confirmation page and number
which you must attach to your supporting documents.

4. Complete medical examination and vaccination

The US has certain medical and vaccination requirements which its citizens and immigrants must fulfill.
Anyone who wants to immigrate to the US must get the necessary medical check-ups and vaccines. The
NVC package which the applicant received after the approval of the petition will specify what medical
procedures the applicant must complete and the vaccines they need to get. The documents and the
check-ups must be completed by a licensed doctor who will sign them. These documents will be
attached to your supporting file which you will then send to the NVC.

5. Compile documents file

Besides the application form, you must also attach various supporting documents to give NVC a better
reason as to why you should be allowed to immigrate to the U. The supporting documents must be sent
to the NVC and the file must contain the following but the NVC can require additional documents:

Your valid passport for more than 6 months after your planned entry into the US
A signed Form I-864, Affidavit of Support from the US petitioner
Form DS-260 confirmation page
Medical examination and vaccination documents
Two US Visa photographs per individual according to the Photo Requirements
Court and criminal records and/or police certificate
If you served in the military, you must bring your military records
Attend interview

Every immigrant applicant for the US must attend an interview at the US Embassy or Consulate where
they are applying. The NVC will first make sure that you have submitted all the necessary documents
and then will schedule the interview. You must attend the interview at the scheduled date and time and
answer any questions that the interviewer has.

6. Receive NVC packet and travel to the US.

If the Family Based Green Card is approved, the person can travel to the US freely. The visa will be
stamped on their passport and the Embassy will give them a package which they must bring to the US
when they first enter the country. This package must not be opened under any circumstances. Only the
US immigrant officials at any US point of entry are allowed to open it and decide whether the applicant
is allowed to enter the country or not.

What are the fees to pay for the Family Based Green Cards?

There are various fees that the petitioner and the applicant must pay throughout the application
process for the Family Based Green Cards. The amounts vary and are set by USCIS, the Department of
Homeland Security and the individual US Embassy or Consulate where you are applying. The main
categories of fees that must be paid are as follows:

Form I-130 filing fee
Processing fee for the Form DS-260
Medical examination and vaccination fees
Fees to get and translate all the supporting documents.
USCIS Immigrant Fee which you must pay after you receive your visa and before you travel to the US.
USCIS will not issue you a Green Card without you paying this fee.
How to get a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status?

The next step after you have gotten your Family Based Green Card visa is to become a Lawful Permanent
Resident of the US. This is usually known as getting the Green Card. To change your status from your
immigrant visa to an LPR, you must first have an approved petition from USCIS and the visa, as well as
live in the US.

Afterwards, you must file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status to
USCIS. This form will be processed and if approved you will get your Green Card in the mail after a few


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