Depending upon the family relationship, obtaining a family-based visa can be an even more lengthy process than that required to obtain an employment-based visa. The first step is for the sponsoring relative to file a Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130. Along with this petition, the sponsor should include:
- Proof of the petitioner's U.S. citizenship (i.e., passport, Certificate of Naturalization, or certified birth certificate) or permanent residence (green card);
- If the petition is for a spouse, biographical forms for both spouses, Forms G-325A; and
- Proof of the family relationship (e.g., marriage certificates, birth certificates, etc.).
At this point, with the exception of immediate relative petitions, the green card process is on hold until the foreign national receives a visa immigrant number. Obtaining this number can take years due to annual caps and per-country limits. Each month, the Visa Bulletin lists the eligible priority dates for each class of family-based visa. In the accompanying image here, you will find an excerpt from the November 2012 Visa Bulletin.
As you can see, there is a 7-year wait for persons in the first priority group — Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Of course, this is assuming that the prospective immigrant is not from Mexico or the Philippines. If this is the case, then the wait can be longer. In fact, the wait is 15 years for Philippine nationals under this category.
Moreover, as you can see, the wait increases with each priority level. Those in the second level – spouses and unmarried children of lawful permanent residents – have the shortest wait. While those in the fourth level – brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens – have the longest wait. In fact, the wait for Philippine nationals who are brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens is more than 23 years.
Once the sponsored alien receives a visa immigrant number, then they can take the next step in obtaining a green card. If the foreign national already resides in the U.S. under a temporary visa, then they can immediately file an Application for Adjustment of Status, Form I-485, with the USCIS. Along with this form, they must include an affidavit of support (Form I-864) from the sponsor unless they have worked in the U.S. for at least 10 years. The sponsor's income or assets must meet the minimum poverty level as established by the USCIS. If it does not, then a joint financial sponsor must also submit an I-864 Affidavit of Support. This joint sponsor's financial status must meet the minimum poverty level as well.
The applicant may wish to also include an application for employment authorization and an application for a travel permit (commonly known as “advanced parole”). For immediate relatives who are in the United States, both the I-130 and the I-485 can be filed simultaneously with the local USCIS office in the home state of the sponsoring relative. Processing times vary from six months to four years for I-485 applications based upon family sponsorship.
On the other hand, if the foreign national resides outside of the U.S., then they must apply for a green card at the U.S. consulate in their home country. The process is nearly the same as consular processing for employment-based petitions. Once the applicant enters the United States, they are a permanent resident and will be issued a green card as evidence of their status.