Visas for Family Members (Frequently Asked Questions)

Authored By: Catholic Charities


I want to get a visitor's visa for a relative or friend. What do I do?

To get a visitor's visa you should apply at the American Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence.

To qualify for a visitor visa you must prove that:

1) The purpose of your trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment.

2) You plan to remain for a specific, limited time.

3) You have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other commitments which will insure your return to your country at the end of the visit.

The requirements for a visitor visa are:

1) You must pay a nonrefundable U.S. $45 application fee

2) You must submit an application Form DS-156, completed and signed. Forms are available at all U.S. consular offices.

3) You must submit a valid passport with a validity date at least 6 months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the U.S.

4) You must submit 2 pictures (each with a photo that is 1 inch square) for each applicant, showing full face, without head covering, against a light background.

In addition, there are other requirements and suggested documents you may if the purpose of your trip is business, pleasure or for medical treatment:

(a) If you are traveling to the U.S. on business, you can present a letter from the U.S. business firm stating the purpose of the trip, your intended length of stay and the firm's intent to absorb travel costs.

(b) If you are traveling to the U.S. for pleasure, you can use letters from relatives or friends in the U.S. whom you plan to visit or provide confirmation of participation in a planned tour.

(c) If you are traveling to the U.S. for medical treatment, you should have a statement from a doctor or institution concerning proposed medical treatment.

I want to get a permanent visa for myself, or a relative or friend. What are the requirements?

An immigrant visa is the visa issued to persons wishing to live permanently in the U.S. An immigrant visa is valid for 6 months from date of issuance.

There are 2 categories of immigrants in the U.S.

1) Unlimited Immigrants

2) Limited Immigrants

Unlimited immigrants are immediate relatives, such as the spouse, widow(er) and minor unmarried children of a U.S. citizen, and the parents of a U.S. citizen who is 21 or older. The person requesting a relative is called the petitioner, the recipient is a beneficiary.

Another type of unlimited immigrant is a returning resident. These are people with U.S. lawful permanent residency who are returning to the U.S. after a stay of more than 1 year overseas.

Limited immigrants are subject to an annual limitation of 675,000 per year. There are 3 sub-categories for this category.

(a) Family-Based (4 preferences)

(i) Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. It is urgent that the beneficiary remain unmarred until after they enter the US and receive the visa.

(ii) Spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent resident aliens.

(iii) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children.

(iv) Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children, if the U.S. citizen is over 20.

(b) Employment-Based (5 preference groups)

(i) People with extraordinary talents in sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; professors and researchers; and certain multinational executives and managers.

(ii) People holding advanced degrees.

(iii) Those holding baccalaureate degrees, skilled workers with at least 2 years experience, and other workers whose skills are in short supply in the U.S.

(iv) Certain religious workers, ministers of religion, certain international organization employees and their immediate family members, and qualified present and former U.S. Government employees.

(v) People who create employment for at least 10 unrelated persons by investing money in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. The minimum dollar amount required is from $500,000 to $1,000,000.

(c) Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery. Makes 55,000 immigrant visa numbers every year to those people selected at random from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.

How to apply for the Visa while outside the US?

Applicants such as priority workers, investors, certain special immigrants, and diversity immigrants can petition on their own behalf. Everyone else has to have a relative or potential employer petition for them.

For family-sponsored immigrant visas, applicants should ask the U.S. citizen or limited permanent resident family member to file a petition Form I-130.

For employment-based immigrant visas, applicants need an approved petition Form I-140 from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Before filing a petition with the INS, the employee-based immigrant visa applicant must obtain certification from the Department of Labor that there are no qualified workers available for the proposed employment in the U.S.

Special immigrant returning residents and U.S. Government employees must apply to the Secretary of State through a U.S. consular office abroad.

An investor has to file a Form I-526 petition with the INS.

Diversity immigrants must file an application with the U.S. Department of State.

NACARA provides special benefits to natives of El Salvador and Guatemala who entered the United States by certain dates in 1990 and filed for asylum or temporary protected status by certain dates in 1991.

Other Necessary Requirements to Obtain a Permanent Visa

(i) Petitioner for a family-based immigrant must provide an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864.

(ii) All applicants must submit certain personal documents (passports, birth certificates, police certificates, other civil documents).

(iii) Every applicant must undergo a medical examination performed by a doctor designated by the consular officer.

(iv) The fee for each immigrant visa application is U.S. $260 and issuance is U.S. $65. Costs have to be paid per person and are not refundable.

An immigrant visa is valid for 6 months from date of issuance.

What do I file for an immigrant visa (to live permanently in the United States) and where do I send it?

The answer depends on who is filing, what the relationship is between the petitioner (the friend or relative in the US) and the beneficiary (the person seeking the visa) and what bars might exist to adjusting status in the US. Generally speaking the immediate relative of a US citizen (spouse, widow, young child or parent) who entered the US on a visa and has stayed in status may file a "one step" packet to adjust status at the local INS office.

A one step packet contains:

(i) The I-130 immediate relative petition;

(ii) I-485 adjustment of status petition;

(iii) I-485 supplement if needed;

(iv) G-325a if over 14 years of age (one each for husband and wife if the beneficiary is a spouse with a photo of each attached to their G-325a);

(v) Medical exam;

(vi) I-864 affidavit of support;

(vii) Copies of Documents (with translation) to prove:

1. The US citizen's nationality (birth certificate, or naturalization certificate);

2. The relationship: marriage license and all divorces or death certificates if for marriage, birth certificate for child, etc.;

3. Birth certificate of beneficiary;

4. Last 3 years tax returns and W-2's for petitioner;

5. letter from petitioner's employer;

6. letter from petitioner's bank;

7. 2 other photos of beneficiary.

The fees for filing these documents are:

I-130 is $130

I-485 is $255

Fingerprint fee of $50

Fees should be paid by a check or U.S. postal money order.

What if my relative didn't enter with a visa? How can I get an immigrant visa (to live permanently in the United States) for them?

Right now, unless you filed an approvable petition for them before the April 30, 2001 deadline, your relative will have to return to his/her home country and go through the consular process. There is danger in this process. A person who has spent 6 months in the United States illegally since 1997 (either because they entered illegally or overstayed their visa), cannot return to the US for three (3) years. This bar begins as soon as the person leaves the US. If they stayed here one year illegally, they are barred from returning for ten (10) years. There is a waiver available for certain people with qualifying relatives. You should seek legal counsel.

If this applies to you, you can only file a first part of the petition. People living in Georgia file at the Southern Service Center in Texas.

If you are filing a petition for a spouse who entered illegally you would file:

(i) I-130;

(ii) G-325a for each with photo attached;

(iii) Filing fee of $130;

(iv) Copies of documents proving the marriage (marriage license and any divorces);

(v) Copies of documents proving the citizenship of the petitioner (your citizenship).

If filing for parent or minor child, you would file:

(i) I-130;

(ii) Proof of citizenship of petitioner;

(iii) Proof of relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary;

(iv) $130 filing fee; and

(v) Copies of documents proving the citizenship of the petitioner (your citizenship).

What if I am a U.S. citizen and I would like to file to get an immigrant visa (a visa to live permanently in the United States) for my older child, my married child or my brother or sister? 

These family members are limited or preference cases. They face a long wait. Each month the visa bulletin publishes the priority dates current in each category or you can check the INS web site. There for you can file only the first part of the application at the Texas Service Center.

You should file:

(i) I-130 form;

(ii) Proof you are a citizen;

(iii) Proof of your relationship to the beneficiary (the person you are getting the visa for);

(iv) Filing fee of $130.

What if I am a U.S. resident (but not a citizen) filing for my spouse or child to receive an immigrant visa (a visa to live permanently in the United States)? What can I do?

These family members are also in preference categories. They face a long wait. Each month the visa bulletin publishes the priority dates current in each category or you can check the INS web site. You can file only the first part of the application at the Texas Service Center.

You should file:

(i) I-130;

(ii) Proof of your residence (copy of both sides of your card);

(iii) Proof of the relationship between yourself (the petitioner) and the relative for whom you are seeking the visa (the beneficiary);

(iv) $130 filing fee.

What are the family categories for permanent residence?

1st Preference

U.S. Sponsor: U.S. Citizen

Relationship: unmarried adult children (21 years or older)

Visas Allocated: 23,400 visas/year, plus any visas left from the 4th Preference

2nd A Preference

U.S. Sponsor: Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)

Relationship: spouses and minor children

Visas Allocated: 87,900 visas/year

2nd B Preference

U.S. Sponsor: Lawful Permanent Resident

Relationship: unmarried adult children (21 years or older)

Visas Allocated: 26,300 visas/year

3rd Preference

U.S. Sponsor: U.S. Citizen

Relationship: married adult children

Visas Allocated: 23,400 visas/year, plus any left over from the 1st and 2nd Preferences

4th Preference

U.S. Sponsor: U.S. Citizen (21 years or older)

Relationship: brothers and sisters

Visas Allocated: 65,000 visas/year, plus any left over from the previous Preferences.

How long is the wait to get an immigrant visa (a visa to live permanently in the United States)?

Unlimited immigrants face only processing time, which in Atlanta is about one (1) year from filing to appointment.

Limited immigrants or relatives in preference categories can wait from 6 to 12 years depending on their category. Also, the wait is longer for people from some countries such as Mexico, India and the Philippines.

Is there anything that can disqualify me from getting an immigrant visa (a visa to live permanently in the United States)?

There are several different grounds that make people ineligible for a visa:

(a) Health & Related Grounds:

1) Communicable disease of public health significance;

2) Vaccinations;

3) Physical or mental disorder with associated harmful behavior;

4) Drug abuse or drug addiction.

(b) Criminal & Related Grounds:

1) Crimes involving moral turpitude;

2) Drug offenses (U.S. or foreign);

3) Multiple criminal convictions;

4) Drug traffickers;

5) Prostitution and vice;

6) Convicted of a serious crime & asserted immunity from prosecution;

7) Violation of religious freedom;

(c) Security & Related Grounds:

1) Espionage and sabotage;

2) Export of sensitive goods, technology, or information;

3) Any unlawful other activity;

4) Any activity aimed at opposing, controlling, or overthrowing the U.S. Government by violence or any other unlawful means;

5) Terrorist activities;

6) Foreign policy considerations;

7) Membership in a totalitarian party;

8) Participation in Nazi persecutions or genocide;

(d) Failure to Meet Labor Certification Requirements & Licensure Requirements:

1) Failure to meet labor certification requirements;

2) Failure to meet licensure requirements for medical doctors;

3) Failure to meet certification requirements for health care workers.

(e) Illegal Entrants and Immigration Violators:

1) Aliens in the U.S. without admission or parole;

2) Failure to attend a removal proceeding;

3) Misrepresentation;

4) Stowaways;

5) Smuggling;

6) Civil penalties for document fraud;

7) Student visa abusers;

8) Persons re-entering after being removed.

(e) Failure to Meet Documentary Requirements:

1) Immigrant without proper visa or travel documents upon arrival at Port of Entry (POE);

2) Improperly issued immigrant visa discovered upon arrival at POE;

3) Nonimmigrant not in possession of passport valid for at least 6 months from the date the initial admission expires;

4) Nonimmigrant not in possession of valid nonimmigrant or border crossing card visa upon arrival at POE;

(f) Persons Ineligible for Citizenship

1) Alien permanently ineligible for citizenship;

2) Draft evaders;

(g) Aliens Present Without Admission or Parole After Previous Immigration Violation

1) Applicants who enter illegally on or after April 1, 1997;

(h) Miscellaneous Grounds for Disqualification:

1) Practicing polygamists;

2) Guardians required to accompany helpless applicants;

3) International child abduction;

4) Non citizens who voted;

5) Former citizens who renounced citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes;

6) Aliens Subject to the 2-Year Foreign Residence & Physical Presence Requirement;

7) J-1 exchange visitors (& J-2 dependent spouse & children).

Last Review and Update: Jul 09, 2002