Family-based immigration accounts for nearly 65% of annual lawful immigration to the U.S. In recent years, this number has been as high as 85%. Family reunification continues to be the backbone of the immigration system, and despite long backlogs of applications, it’s still one of the best ways to immigrate to the U.S. So read on to learn from a Chicago immigration attorney about how to petition a family member for lawful immigration to the U.S. (aka Green Card status)

Types of Family-Based Visas

Family reunification visas are for relatives of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs). There are two classes of visas in this category. They are Immediate Relative and Family Preference.

An Immediate Relative is:

  • A spouse of a U.S. citizen
  • A parent of an adult, over 21 year old U.S. citizen,
  • A minor, unmarried child of a U.S. citizen (under 21 in age)
  • An adopted foreign child meeting all special eligibility requirements

Family preference visas are for other family members of a U.S. citizen or LPR.  There are particular circumstances when an LPR can use the family preference visa, but this is not always the case.

Family preferences are as follows:

  • First Preference (F1) – unmarried children of U.S. citizens (aged 21 and older) and their minor children, if applicable
  • Second Preference (F2) – spouses and minor children (under 21) or unmarried children (21 and older) of LPRs
  • Third Preference (F3) – married children of U.S. citizens, their spouses, and minor children
  • Fourth Preferences (F4) – siblings of adult U.S. citizens (citizen must be 21 or older), their spouses, and minor children

Whether you’re a citizen or LPR, an immigration lawyer in Chicago can help you determine which family-based visa you can petition for based on your specific circumstances.

Applying for a Family-Based Visa

Applying for a family-based visa can involve a lengthy process in many cases, but this should not necessarily deter you and your family.

Although total waiting times often now exceed 1 or 2 years (even 15 years in some cases) for consular processing of immigrant visas, and there are many steps in the visa process, it may very well be worth taking this route for legal family reunification. The petition and application process are manageable in most ways, especially when you hire the best immigration lawyer in Chicago to assist you.

Let’s review a condensed version of what to expect from the visa process in the context of the U.S. consular processing route (as opposed to the adjustment of status route for certain eligible foreign nationals already in the U.S.).

Step One: Submit a Petition

The first step is filing a visa petition via USCIS Form I-130. The U.S. citizen or LPR files the petition, not the family member wanting a visa to immigrate (applicant).

The petitioner will have to supply documents proving the family relationship is one that is legal and genuine.

USCIS will review the petition and decide whether to approve or deny the request. The file goes to the National Visa Center (NVC) for processing if the petition is approved.

If denied, the petitioner may be able to file a new petition. It’s best to know what changes you, the petitioner, need to make for the petition to be successful. An immigration law firm in Chicago can assist with making the necessary changes for a successful petition.

Step Two: Pre-Processing

Once the petition is in the hands of the NVC, you’ll need to submit various items and documents, including:

  • Fees
  • Forms, such as an Affidavit of Support
  • Supporting documentation, including financial and income tax documents

NVC will review your case to confirm you provided all the required documents for the immigrant visa interview.

It’s important to note that some family-based visas have a quota either by visa type and/or country. This means that even if USCIS approves  your petition, your family member may not receive an immigrant visa number right away.  In some cases, the petitioned family member may end up waiting a decade or more due to backlogs in various family preference categories.

Eventually, in practically all cases, the petitioner will need to execute an Affidavit of Support, a document affirming aspects of the petitioner’s financially responsibility for the applicant. Upon signing, the petitioner becomes the sponsor.

If the petitioner’s income is insufficient, a joint sponsor can also complete the form.

There are several different Affidavit of Support forms, but the most common is Form I-864. The petitioner also needs to provide supporting financial evidence when submitting the Affidavit of Support, such as federal income tax returns, W-2’s and pay records.

Step Three: Online Application and Civil Documents

When the application status reads “PAID,” the petitioner and each qualified family member must complete the online visa application form (DS-260). The applicant will bring the confirmation page from this online form to their interview.

The applicant also needs to collect their civil documents. The document requirements are different for each country. Thus, it’s best to work with an immigration law office in Chicago, IL, to ensure you collect all the correct documents and have proper translations.

They can also assist you in strategizing for moving your application forward if you don’t have the required documents.

Step Four: Applicant Interview

After you and your applicant submit all the documents required and a visa is available (for Family Preference categories), the NVC will schedule an interview appointment.

Before the interview, the applicant needs to schedule and complete a medical appointment with an authorized physician.

The physician may send the results directly to the embassy. If they give the applicant a sealed envelope, don’t open it. Instead, have them bring it to the interview appointment.

Additionally, your family member can review the interview preparation instructions provided by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate before attending the interview.

Ensure your applicant brings the following to their interview:

  • Appointment letter
  • Passport
  • Photographs
  • DS-260 confirmation page
  • Supporting documents (including civil documents previously submitted online)

Step Five: Wait for a Response

After the interview, the government will either approve or deny the application.

If approved, the embassy or consulate will inform the applicant how and when they will receive their passport and visa. The immigrant visa is usually valid for up to six months but could be less if the medical examination expires sooner.  An approved immigrant visa holder will have to travel to the U.S. within that period, and from there, his/her Permanent Resident Card (aka Green Card) will be forwarded to the U.S. address listed on their immigrant visa application.

If the application is denied, the consular officer will tell the applicant the reason. If the application requires additional paperwork, the consular officer will provide details on how to submit the missing documents.

Need More Information From a Chicago Immigration Attorney?

With this information from a Chicago immigration attorney, you can feel confident starting your petition for a family-based visa.

However, it’s understandable if you have more questions about the process.

Get in touch with us to work with an attorney at USA Visa Counsel, as we are among the best immigration attorneys in Chicago. We provide each client with the attention they need, approaching each case with creativity, sensitivity, and diligence, and all toward the goal of helping our clients achieve their immigration goals as accurately and efficiently as possible.