The family visa is available for close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can act as a sponsor for their close family members for immigration purposes. The number of family visas available annually is unlimited for certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, but capped for the relatives of U.S. permanent residents and the extended family members of U.S. citizens.
Immediate Relative Petitions
The immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are eligible for an unlimited number of family visas each year. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows U.S. citizens to file an unrestricted number of Immediate Relative Petitions on behalf of their spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, orphans adopted in the U.S. or abroad, and parents (provided the sponsor is at least 21 years old). Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins are not eligible to sponsor relatives for immigration.
Family Preference Categories
Certain family members of lawful permanent residents and the extended family members of U.S. citizens are eligible for a limited number of family visas each year, allocated pursuant to preference categories.
First Family Preference (F1)
The first family preference category is reserved for the unmarried children of U.S. citizens (any age) and their children. A total of 23,400 visas are available each fiscal year for individuals in the first family preference category.
Second Family Preference (F2)
The second family preference category is for spouses, minor children and the unmarried children (over the age of 20) of lawful permanent residents. Of the 114,200 visas available in the second preference category, a minimum of 77% will be allotted to spouses and minor children each year.
Third Family Preference (F3)
The married children of U.S. citizens, as well as their spouses and children, are eligible for the third family preference category which is capped at 23,400 visas annually.
Fourth Family Preference (F4)
The brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, as well as their spouses and children, are eligible for the fourth family preference category. The U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years old to sponsor a relative for one of the 65,000 visas available annually in the fourth preference category.
To sponsor a relative for immigration to the U.S., an individual must meet the following requirements:
- Be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
- Be at least 18 years old in order to sign the Affidavit of Support (described below); and
- Have a U.S. residence or domicile.
Though the U.S. immigration laws do not specify a minimum age required to sponsor relatives for immigration, to sign the Affidavit of Support and legally acquire a domicile one must be at least 18 years of age.
To apply for a family visa, the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident sponsor must take the following steps with the USCIS:
- File and receive approval of an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative;
- Demonstrate their ability to financially support the relative(s) they are sponsoring at, minimally, 125% above the mandated poverty line; and
- Accept legal responsibility for financially supporting their sponsored relative(s) by executing an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864).
Once the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident sponsor has completed the steps above, the sponsored relative must apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad or apply for adjustment of status if in the United States.
In the event there are more qualified applicants than family visas available, the USCIS will issue visas (in chronological order according to each petition's filing date) until the category has been exhausted. The filing date of the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative establishes an applicant's priority date for immigration purposes and the applicant will not be issued an immigrant visa until their priority date is current.