Family Based Immigration

Family Based Immigration

To immigrate to the United States, a foreign national must have a petition approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which is filed either by a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident relative. (There are a few exceptions for self-petitions)

On occasion a U.S. citizen living abroad can file an immigrant visa petition at an U.S. embassy or consulate or with the USCIS overseas, when the American citizen petitioner has been a resident there for the preceding 6 months and has host country permission to reside there. The U.S. Embassy must be contacted to determine eligibility for direct filing. 

Unlimited Family-Based Immigrants - Immediate Relatives 

 Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens (IR): These types of immigrant visas are based on a close family relationship with a U.S. citizen, including spouses, children, and parents. IR classification includes:

  • Spouse of a U.S. Citizen (IR-1)
  • Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen (IR-2)
  • Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen (IR-3)
  • Orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen (IR-4)
  • Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old (IR-5)

Returning Residents (SB): Immigrants who lived in the United States previously as lawful permanent residents and are returning to live in the U.S. after a temporary visit of more than one year abroad.

Numerically Capped Family-Based Immigrants 

These types of immigrant classifications involve specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). Under immigration law, there are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants as explained below.

  • Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their children, if any. (23,400)
  • Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (over age 20) of lawful permanent residents. (114,200) At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder will be allocated to unmarried sons and daughters.
  • Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children. (23,400)
  • Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of United States citizens, and their spouses and children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000)

 Note: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration. 


In order to confer immigration benefits on an adopted child, the adoption must occur before the child reaches 16 years of age.  Further, the adopting parent must have two years of legal and physi¬≠cal custody of the child prior to submitting the petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). (There is an exception in the case of siblings that allows for adoptin up to the age of 18: when one child is under 16 at the time of the adoption, that child's sibling can be up to 18 years old at the time of adoption and still continue to qualify for status as a child.)

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