US Family Sponsorship: Understanding Family-Based Petitions

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For those who want to immigrate to the United States, there are many different pathways available. Because of the limits on the number of visas issues each year and the demand for certain kinds of workers, however, certain pathways are more popular than others. For families, that often means that one individual makes the move solo first – but who wants to move to a foreign country alone? 

Ideally, people want to bring their families with them, and the good news is that, whatever your visa category, there are ways to do this. The key is to understand the different approaches to family sponsorship within the US immigration system.

Family-Based Petitions – A Complex System

There are a variety of ways that US residents and citizens can help family members who are foreign nationals legally enter the country, but as petitioners, these residents can file applications in support of three major categories of family members. These include children (who must be unmarried and under 21 years of age), spouses, and foreign-born parents. 

In other words, despite the many misconceptions around immigration “sponsorship,” petitioners don’t have standing to help more distant relatives or friends obtain visas, though there are some lower-priority options for other close relatives.

Eligibility Categories: A Primer

Given who is eligible to benefit from a family-based petition, the next step in securing a visa for a family member is to identify the most appropriate application category, and an experienced immigration lawyer can help with that. According to My Visa Source, Canadian and US immigration lawyers, however, citizens and permanent residents who hope to eventually obtain citizenship typically petition for immediate relative (IR) visas. 

IR visas enable spouses, unmarried children under 21, orphans who are being or have been adopted, and parents of citizens over age 21 to enter the country. More distant relatives, on the other hand, may be eligible for family preference (F) visas, though these are typically more difficult to obtain.

For legal residents working in the US on an O-1A or O-1B visa, reserved for individuals with significant abilities in the sciences or arts, another option is to file for an O-3 visa in order to bring a spouse or child into the country. O-3 visas do not apply to parents and it’s important to note that individuals on O-3 visas cannot work in the United States, which may be untenable or simply undesirable for some families.

Of course, many individuals hoping to immigrate to the United States do not, in advance of such a move, have an employer who can petition for a visa or other similar supports, and this can represent a serious barrier since they are simply funneled into a general immigration lottery. If selected from the lottery, these individuals and, in some cases, their families, are then able to apply for a visa, though not all will qualify. This is known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) program, and it plays a critical role, bringing 55,000 people from groups historically underrepresented in immigration to the United States each year.

For the majority of people hoping to receive a visa, the entire process is a waiting game and it can take years, leaving families separated and straining relationships. Despite this, visas also represent hope for a better standard of living, new experiences, and so much more. With help from your immigration lawyer and their procedural expertise, though, you can get things moving and reunite your family more quickly.

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