What is family-based immigration?
Family-based immigration means that a person who is at least 21 years old and has obtained US citizenship or a green card as a legal permanent resident (or LPR, for short) can bring members of their family to live and work with them in the US. Even persons who have been admitted into the US as refugees and asylees can bring their relatives into the US 2 years after they have been granted refuge or asylum.

Why is family-based immigration important?
Historically, families migrated together. Studies prove that when whole families migrate, they provide human capital for the US economy. Consider that half of all immigrants who entered the US between 2011-2015 had at least a bachelor’s degree. At least 30% of all new businesses in the US are started by immigrants. Families who migrate together, usually assimilate better.

Who can immigrate under family-based immigration?
Generally, only close family members can immigrate. Specifically, only immediate relatives of a US citizen or LPR such as a spouse, son or daughter, or parent can immigrate. Brothers and sisters of US citizens can also immigrate but they are the last preference.

Relatives are categorized under the Family preference system:
F1 category: unmarried sons and daughters who are 21 years of age or older of US citizens
F2A category: spouses and unmarried children of LPRS who are under 21 years of age
F2B category: unmarried sons and daughters of LPRs who are 21 years of age or older
F3 category: married sons and daughters of US citizens
F4 category: brothers and sisters of US citizens

How common are family visas?
Every year, family visas account for about 65% or 2 out of three visas issued by the US each year. There is no limit on the number of visas issued to immediate relatives of US citizens each year, and around 226,000 family visas are allocated through the family preference categories.

How can the family immigration process be started?
The family-based immigration process begins when the US citizen or US LPR who is currently residing in the US files a petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The proper form is the Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative.

What do I need to prove in my petition?
Legal relationships. The US citizen or LPR must prove that they are legally related to the family members they seek to bring in with them. This means that they are validly and legally married to their spouse and that the children they are petitioning are their children by birth, or by adoption.

Income requirements. The US citizen or LPR must prove that they have sufficient income to support the relatives they will bring into the US with them. The applicant promises to be financially responsible for the relatives they are petitioning for. The applicant must swear or affirm that they will support their family members so that they will not become a public charge or need public assistance.

Note that there are fees to be paid in connection with the filing of a petition. The prompt payment of these fees usually show the USCIS that the applicant has sufficient income to cover the fees.

What kinds of documents will prove legal relationships?
Civil documents are usually required. These civil documents must be in English, and if they are not, the applicant must provide an authentic translation.

Spouse. A US citizen or LPR who is petitioning for a spouse can prove the fact of their legal marriage by providing an authenticated copy of their marriage certificate.

Children. A US citizen or LPR who is petitioning for their children can prove their legal relationship as a parent to their children by providing an authenticated copy of the children’s birth certificates or, if they are adopted, the adoption decree from court and their birth certificates as well.

Parents. If the US citizen or LPR seeks to bring their parents into the US with them, they can provide the birth certificates of their parents as well as the marriage certificate of their parents and the US citizen or LPR’s own birth certificate.

What kind of documents will prove income requirements?
Generally, federal income tax returns prove how much income the US citizen or LPR makes. If the US citizen or LPR has a business, then the certificate of registration of the business will also prove income. If the US citizen or LPR has properties in their names (a house or condo) they can provide the titles to those properties. If they have significant bank deposits, then they can provide bank statements.

How can they prove that they will financially support their relatives?
They can prove that they have income sufficient to provide for the basic needs of their family members. But more importantly, they must sign an Affidavit of Support where they promise to support those family members.

Note that an Affidavit of Support is a legally binding document. If the US citizen or LPR loses his job and cannot support their family members, the petition may be denied. Note that a background check will be performed for each applicant.

What sort of background checks will be done?
There are a few background checks that the USCIS conducts. The USCIS will do a background check on the US citizen or LPR as well as the family members they are petitioning for.

Police and criminal check. The US Justice Department wants to be assured that the persons seeking to enter the US have not been convicted of serious or violent crimes, of espionage or treason. They are especially looking for criminal convictions for crimes related to drugs or human trafficking and smuggling. They may also seek to know if there are pending criminal actions against the relatives.

National security. The US State Department will check the names of the relatives against the list of undesirable persons who have been previously removed from the US, known enemies of the US, or those associated with groups who seek to commit acts of terrorism against the US.

Health check. The US Health Department will check if the relatives seeking entry into the US have communicable diseases (tuberculosis, for instance). They will require the relatives to undergo a physical examination by an accredited physician in the country where they will be migrating from. They will also check for vaccinations against common diseases (polio, measles, meningitis, etc.).

If the USCIS approves the petition, what will happen next?
Once the USCIS approves the petition, they will send the approved petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) for processing.

What does the National Visa Center do?
The NVC will first create a case file associated with your petition and provide you with a case number in a welcome letter. It is here through the NVC case file that you will upload scanned copies of your supporting documents, of scanned forms you need to provide (such as the affidavit of support).

It is also the NVC who will notify the relatives when they need to appear at the US Embassy or Consulate in their home country for their interview.

What should the relatives bring to the interview?
The NVC will provide a list of documents or the original or certified copies of all the documents already submitted. This list of documents will usually include:
→ Interview appointment letter the NVC sent
→ Valid passport of every relative
→ Color photographs
→ The confirmation page of your online submission of the petition
→ Original or certified copies of the supporting documents

What is the interview for?
The US Embassy or Consulate in the relatives’ country will determine the relatives’ eligibility to receive an immigrant visa. They will take the fingerprints of all the relatives and verify, among others:
→ The identity of the relatives (if they are truly whom the US citizen or LPR said they were)
→ They will check the passports of the relatives, that they are in order
→ If the documents provided by the US citizen or LPR and those provided by the relatives are consistent
→ If the personal information provided by the petitioner and the relatives are truthful and consistent.

How long will all this take?
Filing the petition itself should not take long especially if legal documents are readily available. It is the processing at the NVC that takes time. Allow for at least two years for family immigrant visas to be processed.

For applicants coming from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines, there is a long waiting period because there is a yearly cap on the number of visas that can be issued for relatives from these countries. There is a backlog.

Do I need a lawyer for this or can I do this on my own?
It is possible to do all this yourself but it may not be wise. Few petition applications are simple, straightforward, and complication-free. It is usually wise to consult a family immigration lawyer to determine:
→ If you are eligible to file a petition for your relatives
→ If you are likely to meet the income requirements
→ Who among your relatives are eligible to be petitioned
→ The documents you need to prove your eligibility and relationships

The job of a family immigration lawyer is not limited to helping fill up forms. Remember that the immigration process is a legal process and US Immigration laws are complex and technical. Any small error, mistake or inconsistency in any declaration or documentation can cause delay in the processing of the application, at the very least, or a denial of the petition.

At worst, errors or inconsistencies may result in criminal proceedings for perjury or falsification of documents and ultimately, in denial of admission into the United States or non-issuance of an immigrant visa for the relative. In some cases, errors and inconsistencies may result in the removal (deportation) of the legal permanent resident who sponsored the relative.

Family immigration lawyers can help protect all your rights even when your petition has been denied. They can help you prepare for the interview so that you can confidently answer questions. Remember that any hesitation on your part during the interview may count against your credibility. It may mean approval or denial of a visa for your relatives.

Call our experienced family immigration legal team today and ask for a consultation. They can help you start the process of bringing your loved ones to live with you in the United States.

How may an attorney help me?


In the United States a person may represent themselves before any court, this is called “pro se” representation. US immigration laws are extremely complex and constantly changing. Even the smallest inadvertent mistake on the application can delay an applicant for years or even result in the denial of their case. A competent attorney can help you determine whether you qualify for the program to which you are applying as well as assist in gathering and producing evidence to support your application. An attorney can also accompany you in your interview as well as prep you beforehand using mock interviews, so you know what to expect and are prepared. An attorney could also appeal any denial of an applicant to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and further to the Circuit court of Appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court.