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Understanding U.S. Visa Family Classifications

Updated on September 25, 2018

It can take many years for a loved one to finally get their visa. Everyone has heard how a permanent resident filed to get their relative using the I-130 form and waited many years for the visa to be issued. The reason is not complicated.

Classifications & Processing

There are two major categories for family related immigrant visas. Generally, either a USC files to petition a non-USC son, daughter, step-child, or a permanent resident with a Green card files. In either case, the cost is $535. Once filed, it will take several weeks to get a receipt notice stating it has been accepted. Being accepted is not approval. The approval process will usually take at least 6-12 mos. When the approval notice arrives, the National Visa Center issues a case number for the applicant. Usually, the family relative is living outside the USA, so the application and file will be sent to the U.S. Embassy in the foreign country where the relative resides. This can take 3-4 weeks. When received, the embassy notifies the relative and schedules a time for interview, which usually is a month away. The relative will need to have medical exam at a designated place. Assuming all goes well for the relative, the U.S. embassy will issue an Immigrant visa within several more weeks. When the relative receives the visa, they had six months to arrive in the USA. Once the land in the USA, they are issued a permanent residency card.

The first classification is IR (Immediate Relative). These visas are unlimited, meaning as long as paperwork is in order, the average waiting time is one year. This category is a relative close to a USC, such as, spouse, children or step-children (of the USC) under 21, unmarried, orphans adopted by USC, and a parent of a USC. The most common scenario is a USC marries a foreigner and petitions to bring her to America. If they had kids together, then, they can be petitioned also. Even if the kids are not from the marriage, as step-children, under age 16, they can be petitioned also.

The second category is Family Preference Immigrant Visas. The relations are more distant than IR, and these are governed by the quota system and cause many years to go by with nothing happening as loved ones wait for their visa number to become eligible. The F1 is for unmarried children of USC and their kids, if any. F2 is very common. It covers spouses, children, unmarried children over 21 of lawful permanent residents (already in the USA). F3 is for married adult children of a USC and their kids\spouses. F4 is for brothers and sisters of a USC and their spouses\children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.

For the F2, only 114,200 visas will be issued in a year. The F1, F3, has only about 24,000 available each. F4 has 65,000 available.

Each year, the number of visas available changes and each country or geographic area have only so many visas available for the millions wanting to come to the USA. For example, the Philippines is high on the list for many Filipinos. Coming to the USA is popular but only 25,600 visas are available to that country per year, which is why there are over 356,000 Filipinos on the waiting list. At the present rate of visas available, one can quickly see why it could take more than 10 years to get one.

Since the IR classifications have no visa limits, many USC will file the I-130 form for the beneficiary. As long as the paperwork is fine, they will arrive by the end of the year's time. If the permanent resident files the I-130, say, to bring her child over, it will put her in the Family visa category that has quotas. The only other way is to use the K1 visa, which allows a foreigner to arrive in the US to marry a USC. They would be able to bring their children also and then change status after a year or so.

It is always best to have the USC file the I-130, as there are no visa limits to worry about.


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