All You Need to Know About Family-Based Visas


By Imagility

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Table of Contents 

What is a Family-based visa?
Eligibility for a family-based visa
How to apply for a family visa?
Documents required for a family-based visa
Processing Times
Concluding thoughts

Are you willing to reunite with your family in the USA? If so, you do not need to miss them anymore. You can reunite with them through a family-based visa program. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides the opportunity for family reunification by granting family-based visas. There are mainly two categories for family-based visas; Immediate Relative Immigrant (IR) Visas and Family Preference Immigrant Visas.

There is no cap limit for immediate relative immigrant visas, whereas Family Preference Immigrant visas are subject to a cap limit. To initiate the application process for a family visa, the petitioner (US citizen/ lawful permanent resident) must sponsor the beneficiaries, which could be a spouse, son, daughter, or parent.

In this blog post, we will dive deeper into the detailed requirements of family-based visas, enabling you to understand the process comprehensively.

Let’s begin!

What is a Family-based visa?

A family-based visa is a specific type of visa that aims to facilitate the reunion of individuals with their family members who are US citizens or lawful permanent residents. It enables spouses, sons, daughters, parents, and close relatives to reunite with family members in the USA. Family visas can be classified into two distinct categories.

  • Immediate relative immigrant (IR) visa

The immediate relative immigrant visa is granted to those individuals who are close relatives of US citizens. For instance, spouses, unmarried children, parents, and adopted orphans can be granted IR visas if they meet eligibility criteria. The good thing is that, unlike a family-based preference visa, an IR visa is not subject to cap limits, so you do not need to worry about the number of visas available for the IR visas. Also, the adjudication process is fast for the IR visa. Let’s take a closer look at the IR visa types.

    • Spouse of a US citizen
    • Unmarried children of US citizen
    • Parent of a US citizen (at least 21years old)
    • Orphan adopted overseas by a US citizen
  • Family-preference visa

Individuals who are certain family members or relatives of US citizens/lawful permanent residents are eligible to receive a family preference visa. However, unlike the immediate relative visa, family preference visas are subject to a cap limit. This means that if the cap limit is reached in a given year, you will need to wait until the following year. Now, let’s look at the several types of family preference visas and their respective cap limits.


Family preference visa category

Cap limit

Unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 or above) of U.S. citizens


spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons/daughters (who are 21 years and older) of lawful permanent residents


married sons/daughters of U.S. citizens


brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens


 It is significant to note that US citizens can request a non-immigrant visa to continue the immigration process for immigrant family members like his/her fiance. They can do so by applying for a “K” visa. The K visa allows the fiance to marry a US citizen within 90 days of arrival. This could be the first crucial step for the fiance to get a family-based visa.

Eligibility for a family-based visa

Before applying for a family visa, it is important to know the eligibility criteria. Let’s look at them.

  • US citizens or lawful permanent residents must petition for a foreign family member.
  • Must have documented evidence of the relationship between you (beneficiary) and the petitioner (sponsor).
  • The prospective immigrant must apply for permanent residence status (green card).
  • The petitioners must promise to sponsor the foreign family member.
  • The prospective immigrant must be admissible to the US.

How to apply for a family visa?

The family-based visa application process involves several steps and requirements. Both immediate relatives and family preference visa categories follow the same application process. However, it is significant to note that immediate relatives typically experience shorter processing times than applicants in the family preference visa category. Here is an overview of the process:

  • Determine your eligibility

To apply for a family visa, you must have a qualifying relationship with a US citizen or lawful permanent resident (petitioner). The petitioner must be an immediate family member (spouse, parent, or children) or a close relative (such as a married son or daughter) in family preference visa categories.

  • Sponsor files a petition

The petitioner initiates the process by filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with USCIS. This form establishes the relationship between the sponsor and the intending immigrant.

  • Wait for petition approval

After submitting the petition, USCIS reviews it to verify the relationship and eligibility. If the petition is approved, it moves to the next stage. If additional evidence or information is needed, USCIS may request it from the sponsor.

  • National Visa Center (NVC) processing

After a visa becomes available, the approved petition is forwarded to the National Visa Center. The NVC collects necessary fees and documents, including the Affidavit of Support and civil documents, and assigns a case number.

  • Consular processing or adjustment of status

Depending on the immigrant’s location, consular processing or adjustment of status may be required. Consular processing involves attending an interview at the US embassy or consulate in the applicant’s home country. Adjustment of status is typically the process of applying for a green card while being physically present in the United States.

  • Attend an interview

If consular processing is required, the intending immigrant must attend an interview at the US embassy or consulate. The consular officer reviews the application, conducts the interview, and determines the applicant’s eligibility for the visa.

  • Visa approval

Once the consular officer approves the visa application, the intending immigrant will receive the visa in their passport. They can then travel to the US to reunite with their family.

Documents required for a family-based visa

While applying for a family-based visa, you must have some documents. We have provided below the list of documents. Have a look.

  • A valid passport
  • Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) to demonstrate financial sponsorship by the petitioner
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate or divorce certificates (if applicable)
  • Photographs, as per the specific photo requirements
  • Immigration medical examination form

Processing Times

The processing times for each family-based visa category vary significantly. Immediate relatives, who are not subject to a cap limit, generally experience shorter processing times of around 9 to 12 months. On the other hand, family preference visa categories, which are subject to a cap limit, may have longer processing times ranging from one to three years.

Concluding thoughts

You must have now understood the types of family-based visas and know how the process works for immediate relative visas and family preference visas. You can go through the eligibility requirements and essential documents carefully to apply for a family-based visa to reunite with your family in the US. You can take the help of the Imagility platform, which helps you streamline the immigration experience. Our experts have brought in hundreds of years of experience on the legal side and immigration side into the platform. The Imagility platform handles end-to-end immigration, including a range of employment, family, and humanitarian visas.

Reach out to us for a demo today at

Or call us at +1 603 782 4622/+1 617 865 6588.

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