U.S. citizens and green card holders file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to establish qualifying family relationship with certain family members who wish to immigrate to the U.S.
What happens after Form I-130 is approved will depend on the family relationship the immigrant visa applicant has with the sponsoring U.S. citizen or green card holder. Immediate relatives will be given priority as there is no limit in the number of visas issued to them each year. Those in family preference categories may have to wait for months or years for a visa number to become available in their category. Likewise, the process is different for those going through consular processing and people in the U.S. adjusting their status to legal resident status while in the U.S.
Following are the Immediate Relative categories:
IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. citizen
IR-2: Unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen
IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen
IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
IR-5: Parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old
Following are the family preference categories:
Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried children of U.S. citizens above age 21 and minor children.
Family Second Preference (F2): Husband or wife, minor children and unmarried adult children of green card holders.
Family Third Preference (F3): Married children of U.S. citizens and their husband or wife and their minor children.
Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and their husband or wife and minor children. To sponsor a brother or sister, the U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years of age.
Immediate Relatives of the Sponsor Living in the U.S.
An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen who is already in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa, can go through a process called adjustment of status. These applicants need not get immigrant visas and come to the U.S. Since they are already in the U.S., they can adjust their status and get their green cards. This step is available to those in the family preference categories too, but the wait times for these applicants are too long so it is less common among the preference categories.
Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, is the form the beneficiary of the immigrant petition needs to file to go through adjustment of status. To go through this process, the beneficiary will need to be physically present in the U.S. legally. He or she must have an approved immigrant petition.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens can file the I-485 application concurrently when their sponsor files Form I-130 for them. Other categories of relatives who are in the U.S. will need to wait for Form I-130 to be approved to file Form I-485.
Immediate Relatives of the Sponsor Living Outside the U.S.
Immediate relatives residing outside the U.S. will have to go through a process called consular processing to get an immigrant visa and come to the U.S.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will send approved I-130 petitions to the National Visa Center for pre-processing. When the petition becomes current or if the petition is likely to become current within a year, the NVC will start immigrant visa pre-processing. This is when the NVC will collect the immigrant visa fees and supporting documents from the I-130 petitioners and immigrant visa applicants. The NVC will inform the beneficiary and the petitioner when an immigrant visa number is about to become available.
Immigrant visa applicants who go through consular processing can either choose an agent to receive information about their case or they can be their agent. They will have to pay the processing fee for the immigrant visa application and for Affidavit of Support. They will need to submit the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application. Followed by that, they will be required to send certain supporting documents to the NVC.
If the applicants have filed their applications and supporting documents correctly and if the NVC is satisfied with their applications, the agency will schedule an interview at the local U.S. Consulate of Embassy. Immigrant visas will be issued to successful visa applicants.
Relatives Who Belong to Family Preference Outside the U.S.
Applicants in the family preference categories must go through consular processing. Applicants in this category might have to wait for years for an immigrant visa interview due to the limited number of visas made available to immigrants in this category. Their applications will remain with the NVC until a priority date in their category becomes current. Priority date is the date on which the immigrant petition was filed. Applicants will have to keep track of the Visa Bulletin to know when their priority dates become current.