Understanding Family Sponsorship in America

US Family-Based Immigration News: Family Sponsorship Visas to US

United States citizens and green card holders can sponsor family members living in other countries. Sponsorship is a method of petitioning on behalf of family members for their green cards. There are limitations on who can sponsor what family members based on age, relationship, and citizenship status.  Additionally, wait times and acceptance can depend on multiple factors.

Who Can Sponsor, and Who Can Be Sponsored?

Who a person can sponsor depends on his or her age, citizenship status, and relationship to the sponsee. A U.S. citizen aged 21 or older has the ability to sponsor his or her parents and siblings. A U.S. citizen aged 18 or older can sponsor his or her unmarried adult child, minor child, or a spouse. A U.S. citizen can sponsor his or her married or adult children. Any permanent resident can sponsor his or her spouse or unmarried children

Typically, sponsees are sorted into two categories through the Immigration and Nationality Act: immediate relatives and preference relatives.

Immediate Relatives

This category includes parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21. The number of immediate relative visas is not limited yearly, so the waiting period tends to be much shorter. 

Preference Relatives

Preference relatives are further broken down into five categories. They are Family 1st preference, Family 2nd preference A and 2nd preference B, Family 3rd preference, and Family 4th preference. The distinctions are made as follows:

  • Family 1st- unmarried children aged 21 or older (of U.S. citizens)
  • Family 2nd A- spouses and unmarried children younger than 21 (of permanent residents)
  • Family 2nd B- unmarried children over 21 (of permanent residents)
  • Family 3rd- married children older than 21 (of U.S. citizens)
  • Family 4th- brothers and sisters (of U.S. citizens)


Family members in the preference category typically face higher waiting periods due to a limitation on the number of visas granted for this category annually. 


Process for Petitioning

To begin the process, the sponsor files an I-130 petition with USCIS. The application must include documentation that establishes the sponsor’s residence or citizenship status and evidence of the familial relationship. Evidence for the relationship can be a marriage or birth certificate. For individuals sponsoring a spouse, additional interviews to establish the legitimacy of the marriage may be required. 

Once the petition is approved, the sponsee is assigned a priority date based on the filing date of the petition. The sponsee will also be assigned to his or her family category at this time. Once the priority date passes, the sponsee can apply for a visa or adjustment status, depending on the circumstances. An approval of a petition is not a direct approval of a visa or status change. 

Priority Dates and Wait Times

Visa availability is announced by the State Department on a monthly basis. A sponsee’s priority date must be prior to the date posted on the bulletin for him or her to apply for a visa or status change. Immediate relatives need only wait as long as it takes for USCIS and the State Department to process their applications. The waiting period for preference relatives, however, can last years due to the limited number of visas available.  Applicants in higher preference categories generally have shorter wait times than those in lower categories. 


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