Family-Based Immigration: FAQs

Family-based immigration continues to be the primary vehicle used to gain U.S. citizenship and lawful permanent residence.

Both citizens and legal permanent residents, commonly called LPRs, have the lawful right to sponsor others for visas if they meet the family member criteria under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Currently, family visas, or “Green Cards,” account for approximately 65% of immigration to the United States each year.

Although family immigration remains the most utilized pathway, the bureaucracy and legal hurdles involved can be quite complex. A single misstep can result in significant delays or force applicants to restart the process entirely.

Below are some frequently asked questions and answers that may prove helpful.

Who Is Eligible For A Family-Based Visa?
Family members are considered under two basic groups, immediate family members and family preference.

Immediate family members of U.S. citizens include spouses, unmarried child under 21 years old, orphans adopted abroad, orphans to be adopted in the U.S., and parents 21 and older.

The second group, family preference, includes the spouses, minor children, unmarried sons and daughters older than 21 of LPRs. For U.S. citizens, the list includes sons and daughters, their spouses and children, as well as brothers and sisters.

How Long Does The Immigration Process Take?
The “Petition for an Alien Relative” involves a series of bureaucratic steps and is processed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Although the process routinely takes 8-12 months, backlogs and procedural missteps can negatively impact the timeline. It’s important to work with an experienced immigration attorney to avoid unnecessary delays.

What Documents Will USCIS Require?
Along with the Petition for an Alien Relative (Form I-130), you will need to submit an affidavit of support, visa application, proof of vaccinations, and personal ID as detailed by the agencies.

How Do I Get Work?

The work authorization process can run anywhere from 3-4 months on average. Those with a valid work card may apply for a Social Security number.

Are There Travel Restrictions?
Green Card holders must present their foreign passport when traveling abroad. There is a 1-year time limit for being out of the U.S. However, Green Card holders are able to take multiple trips out of the country.

What Should I Know About Green Cards and Marriage?
When applying for a marriage-based Green Card, you will be subject to an interview that basically tests the validity and intimacy of the union. Questions can range from “where you met” to “how much time you spend together.”

A marriage-based Green card has two distinct time periods. In marriages under two years at the time of your interview with USCIS, the Green Card will be valid for two years. In those longer than two years at the time of the interview, the Green Card will remain valid for 10 years.

When Can I Apply for U.S. Citizenship?
Immigrants who hold a Green Card and are married to a U.S. citizen can apply after three years. Others, such as LPRs, can apply after five years.

Do I Need An Immigration Lawyer?
It’s important to keep in mind that the immigration system can be complex. It involves strict documentation, deadlines and a myriad of parts of the process. That is why many people contact an experienced immigration attorney to effectively navigate the immigration process. For assistance with your immigration matter, contact an immigration lawyer today.