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What types of family visa are available for immigrants?

With all the talk of immigration and families, here’s a primer on family-based immigration and how it works.

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can sponsor family members to get permanent residence, also known as a “green card.” Family visas account for about 65 percent of legal immigration each year.

Two groups eligible for family migration

There are only two groups eligible for family visas – immediate relatives and those who fall under family preference categories

Immediate relatives include:

  • Spouses
  • Parents
  • Unmarried children under age 21
  • Orphans adopted abroad
  • Orphans to be adopted by citizens in the U.S.

Family preference categories include:

  • Unmarried sons and daughters, their spouses and children
  • Spouses, children under 21, and unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of lawful permanent residents
  • Married sons and daughters, their spouses and children
  • Brothers and sisters, their spouses and minor children provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins are not considered for immigration.

What the sponsor and applicant must do

The sponsor must be older than 18 in some cases and 21 in other cases, must live in the U.S. and must file a petition for the family member with U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. That petition must prove the legitimacy of the relative and must also show that the petitioner can financially support the applicant.

Each applicant then undergoes:

  • A background check
  • Health screenings
  • A criminal check
  • A national security screening
  • A financial examination to make sure the applicant won’t need public assistance

Once approved, the application goes to the National Visa Center where the applicant fills out forms, submits documents and pays fees.

Then the applicant is interviewed at a U.S. consulate or embassy to determine eligibility, and must undergo a physical and receive vaccinations.

After everything is approved, some spouses and children of citizens get their green cards relatively soon. Some family members wait years or decades, as do applicants from some high-volume countries such as China, India, Mexico and the Philippines.

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