Family-Based Immigration

When permanent residents or naturalized U.S. citizens develop a career, family, friends, and community life in America, they may want other family members to move to the U.S. permanently. Similarly, a U.S. citizen by birth may develop a relationship with a foreign national and eventually marry. The American citizen and spouse may wish to move the noncitizen partner to the United States. Family-based immigration provides the process to transition a family member into America for lawful permanent residency.  

Petition for an Immigrant Visa

The first step in the family-based immigration process involves the petitioner, who is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, filing an I-130 Petition on behalf of the noncitizen family member (“beneficiary”). When filing the Petition, the petitioner must provide evidence to USCIS. The required evidence differs based upon the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary. The Petition and evidence allow USCIS to determine the relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary. After USCIS approves the Petition, USCIS will send an approval notice (I-797 Form). The I-797 approval does not mean that the noncitizen family member may immediately move to the United States. The I-797 Form is not a visa.

The second step in the family-based immigration process occurs after USCIS approves the petition. The second step branches into 2 ways to apply for permanent residency: (1) status adjustment if the beneficiary is physically present in the U.S. and (2) consular processing if the beneficiary is not in the U.S. When preparing the I-130 Petition, the petitioner and beneficiary should choose the method (status adjustment or consular processing).

Adjustment of Status (Method 1)

After USCIS approves the I-130 petition, the approved petition authorizes the beneficiary to file an application to adjust status (apply for permanent residency). Beneficiaries may only apply for adjustment if they are physically present in the U.S. and satisfy other legal criteria. In addition to the permanent residency application (I-485 Form), the petitioner and beneficiary also need to complete and submit the financial affidavit (I-864 Form). Depending upon the circumstances, a beneficiary may also wish to apply for advance parole (I-131 Form) and employment authorization (I-765 Form).  

If the petitioner is a U.S. citizen, the family may file the I-130 petition and the permanent residency application packet at the same time (“concurrent filing”). Concurrent filing may only happen while the beneficiary is physically present in America. The United States grants this option to a U.S. citizen when she or he pursues permanent residency for immediate relatives.   

Consular Processing (Method 2)

After USCIS approves the I-130 Petition, the beneficiary may apply for an immigrant visa. A U.S. embassy or consulate will issue the immigrant visa. After approving the I-130 Petition, USCIS transfers the case to the National Visa Center (“NVC”). The family submits fees, an I-864 Form and financial records, the beneficiary’s civil records, and prepares the DS-260 Form. Eventually, the beneficiary attends an interview at the embassy or consulate. The beneficiary waits for the diplomatic post’s decision to grant or deny the immigrant visa. If the consulate issues the visa, the immigrant visa authorizes beneficiaries to present themselves to Customs and Border Protection and request admission into the U.S. Before or after the beneficiary travels to the America, the new permanent resident must pay the immigrant fee to USCIS.  USCIS uses this fee to process the beneficiary’s permanent resident card.