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Many people come to the United States from other countries in search of a better life for them and their families. To lawfully remain in the country, they will need to apply for a visa. Some visas are family-based visas. Oftentimes a family-based visa is sought when one family member immigrates to the United States first or is a U.S. citizen, and that person wants to bring their foreign citizen relative into the country. The U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident will then sponsor their family member’s visa application so their relative may enter the United States.


A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can sponsor a foreign citizen for an immigrant visa. U.S. citizens can sponsor a spouse, child, parent or sibling. A lawful permanent resident can only sponsor a spouse or unmarried child.

Immediate relative visas

There are two different types of family-based visas. One is an immediate relative visa. To obtain such a visa, there must be a close family relationship between the foreign citizen and the U.S. sponsor, such as that between a spouse, child or parent. There is no limit to the number of immediate relative visas that can be issued each year.

Family preference visas

Foreign citizens who have a more distant relationship with their U.S. sponsor may pursue a family preference visa. This is an option if the relationship does not qualify the foreign citizen for an immediate relative visa. The number of family preference visas available each fiscal year is limited. This means that not everyone who applies for a family preference visa will be granted one.

Immigration law and rules are complex, and they are often subject to change. Errors made in the visa application process can jeopardize a person’s ability to ultimately reside in the United States. For this reason, it is important to ensure your visa application is thoroughly and correctly executed. Understanding your rights as an immigrant is a good first step.