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The Immigration and Nationality Act allows for the immigration of foreigners to the United States based on relationship to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. Family-based immigration falls under two basic categories: unlimited and limited.
- Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens (IR): The spouse, widow(er) and unmarried children under 21 of a U.S. citizen, and the parent of a U.S. citizen who is 21 or older.
- Returning Residents (SB): Immigrants who lived in the United States previously as lawful permanent residents and are returning to live in the U.S. after a temporary visit of more than one year abroad.
- Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their children, if any. (23,400)
- Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (over age 20) of lawful permanent residents. (114,200) At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder will be allocated to unmarried sons and daughters.
- Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children. (23,400)
- Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of United States citizens, and their spouses and children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000)
Relatives of intending immigrants who plan to base their immigrant visa applications on family relationship must obtain a Form I-130, Immigrant Petition for Relative, from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The petitioning U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident must submit the Form I-130 to the INS office. Forms and instructions are available from INS. Once INS approves the petition, they will send the petitioner a notice of approval, Form I-797. INS will also forward the approved petition to the Immigrant Visa Processing Center, which will contact the intending immigrant with further information.
Visa Ineligibility / Waiver
The immigration laws of the United States, in order to protect the health, welfare, and security of the United States, prohibit the issuance of a visa to certain applicants. Examples of applicants who must be refused visas are those who: have a communicable disease such as tuberculosis, have a dangerous physical or mental disorder, or are drug addicts; have committed serious criminal acts; are terrorists, subversives, members of a totalitarian party, or former Nazi war criminals; have used illegal means to enter the United States; or are ineligible for citizenship. Some former exchange visitors must live abroad two years. Physicians who intend to practice medicine must pass a qualifying exam before receiving immigrant visas. If found to be ineligible, the consular officer will then advise the applicant if the law provides for some form of waiver.
Other Important Information
Documents for a Visa Application
The petitioner/sponsor must provide an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864. All Applicants must submit certain personal documents such as passports, birth certificates, police certificates, and other civil documents. The consular officer will inform visa applicants of the documents needed as their applications are processed.
Before the issuance of an immigrant visa, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination. The examination will be conducted by a doctor designated by the consular officer. Costs for such examinations must be borne by the applicant, in addition to the visa fees.
The cost of each formal immigrant visa application is US$260 for application and US$65 for issuance. Fees must be paid for each intending immigrant regardless of age, and are not refundable. Local currency equivalents are acceptable. Fees should not be sent to the consular office unless requested specifically. The INS charges additional fees for filing petitions.
Whenever there are more qualified applicants for a category than there are available numbers, the category will be considered oversubscribed, and immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the numerical limit for the category is reached. The filing date of a petition becomes the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached. In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is reached. Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates.
Since no advance assurances can be given that a visa will be issued, applicants are advised not to make any final travel arrangements, not to dispose of their property, and not to give up their jobs until visas have been issued to them. An immigrant visa can be valid for six months from date of issuance.
With few exceptions, a person born in the United States has a claim to U.S. citizenship. Persons born in countries other than the U.S. may have a claim, under United States law, to U.S. nationality if:
- Either parent was born or naturalized in the U.S., or
- Either parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of applicant’s birth.
Any applicant believing he or she may have a claim to U.S. citizenship should not apply for a visa until his or her citizenship has been determined by the consular office.