Fortunately, one family member that is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can petition the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to give a visa or green card to their foreign family members. The U.S. citizen or resident sponsors their loved one and agrees to be financially responsible for their family member.

There are immediate relative and family preference visas available. The difference between the two types of visas is how closely related the U.S. citizen is to the family member seeking entry into the United States.

Who might qualify for an immediate relative visa?

If you are a U.S. citizen, your spouse, children (unmarried, age 21 or younger) and parents may qualify for an immediate relative visa with your sponsorship. If you are a legal U.S. permanent resident, you can sponsor your spouse and unmarried children.

The likelihood of family members receiving an immediate relative visa is higher than the chances of obtaining a family preference visa.

How does a family preference visa work?

For more distant relatives, those that do not qualify as an immediate relative under immigration law, the chances of receiving a visa is less likely. Possible relatives of a U.S. citizen that might be eligible, include:

  • Siblings
  • Children of any age, married or unmarried
  • Son-in-law or daughter-in-law, if married to the citizen’s child
  • Minor grandchildren, if their parents qualify

There is an unlimited number of visas available for close relatives of U.S. citizens and a limited number, only 480,000, of family preference visas awarded each year.

What happens next?

All visa applicants are subject to background tests and medical examinations. After the sponsor completes the paperwork, the applicant will need to submit documentation, complete forms, pay fees and undergo an interview.

Once the process is complete, the family members will wait to see if the visa application was approved or denied. Although the process can be daunting, hopefully, it will be worthwhile in the end. Of course, U.S. citizens or permanent residents can reach out to an immigration attorney for help with the application or guidance on how to appeal a rejection.