How Does the Family-Based Immigration Process Work in the U.S.? An Immigration Lawyer Explains

Oct 15, 2021 | Blogs

Florida is home to millions of immigrants, many of them from the Caribbean and Latin America. According to the American Immigration Council, one out of five Florida residents was born in a foreign country, and over 25% of Florida’s labor force consists of immigrants.

Many of these people have left families in their countries of origin and hope to reunite with their loved ones. How does the United States family-based immigration system work, and how can you help a family member obtain immigrant status? We asked Dalyla Santos, a young immigrant herself, from Cuba, before becoming the founding and managing attorney at The Santos Law Offices, PA in Miami and Orlando, FL. Now her firm is a leading immigration law firm in South and Central Florida.

Family-Based Immigrant Visas

A U.S. citizen or lawful resident can sponsor family members (beneficiaries) living in a foreign country and help them seek permanent resident status. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) allocates family-based immigration visas conforming to the maximum number that the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has determined.

Immediate Relative vs. Family Preference

Family-based immigrants can fall under one of two groups: immediate relative or family preference.

  • A spouse, a parent, or unmarried child (21 or younger) of a U.S. citizen counts as an immediate relative
  • All other family relationships belong to one of the family preference categories

While the law sets no annual cap on immediate relative visas, immigration law limits family preference visas per country. Because of this, many family preference beneficiaries may have to wait a long time for visa approval, especially if they come from countries with a large number of applicants.

Family Preference Categories

Family preference categories, in descending order, are as follows:

  • F1: An adult unmarried child of a U.S. citizen
  • F2: A spouse, child under 21, or adult unmarried child of legal permanent residents
  • F3: An adult married child of a U.S. citizen, their spouse, and their minor children
  • F4: A sibling of an adult U.S. citizen, their spouse, and their minor children

Applying for a Green Card

To start the family-based immigration process, the petitioner must file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application must include proof of a family relationship that falls under immediate relative or one of the family preference categories.

Next, USCIS should approve the I-130 petition and issue a visa number. Once this step is complete, the beneficiary can apply for a green card depending on their priority date through one of two ways: consular processing (the more common legal pathway) or adjustment of status.

  • During consular processing, the foreign citizen applies for an immigrant visa through a U.S. consular office or embassy in a foreign country.
  • Adjustment of status involves changing a person’s immigration status when they are already residing in the U.S. (for example, from a student to a green card holder).

Visa Priority Dates

The number of applicants for family preference visas is almost always higher than the number of available visas. When this happens, a waiting list forms.

The applicant’s priority date (the date USCIS accepted their I-130 petition) and their family preference category determine their place in line. Once a person’s priority date becomes current, they may apply for a green card.

To monitor their progress up the waiting list, people should keep up-to-date with the visa bulletin the DOS publishes each month.

Green Card and Criminal History

Some types of criminal history may make an applicant ineligible for a green card. Those include:

  • Aggravated felonies that fall under a list the United States Congress has established
  • Crimes of “moral turpitude” like murder, rape, and fraud
  • Crimes that involve illegal drugs

How an Immigration Attorney Can Help With the Family-Based Immigration Process

The Santos Law Offices, PA, has enabled many people to successfully collaborate with the U.S. immigration system and help their family members immigrate to the United States.

Every year, USCIS rejects thousands of applications, often because of minor mistakes or omissions. We will make sure your application follows USCIS requirements to the letter, including all the necessary documentation and accurate, correctly filled forms.

Dalyla Santos and her legal team can help you revise proof of family relationships like marriage and birth certificates, health screening documents, and other details you might miss if you tackle the process without legal help.

Immigration-related paperwork may be daunting, especially if you run into trouble with the immigration court. Knowledgeable legal representation by a Florida immigration lawyer can help you seek a green card for a family member.

The Santos Law Offices, PA: Talk to an Experienced Immigration Lawyer

A note from Immigration Attorney Dalyla Santos:

At Santos Law, which I established, we have a passion for supporting people through difficult times and helping to reunite immigrant families. To talk to me or a member of my immigration law team, call us at 305-417-4111 today or fill out our contact form.

You can trust us! We know what you’ve been through (since many of us have been in that situation, too). We are like family, and we speak your language.

At The Santos Law Offices, PA, we are here to help immigrant families like yours, whether it’s to reunite you with family members or help you with financial and debt issues. If you’re going through a hard time and need legal help, don’t hesitate to talk to us.

We offer free consultations on all immigration-related matters, including Saturday consults by appointment. We will do this call over the phone or Zoom for your convenience, so you don’t have to deal with traffic or parking. If you prefer to meet us face to face, we can schedule an appointment in our offices in Miami or Orlando. Hablamos Español. Ven y habla con nosotras.

Copyright© 2021 The Santos Law Offices, PA. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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Miami, FL 33144
(305) 417-4111

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