Family Based Immigration (petition I-130 for alien relative)

Discover everything you need to know about obtaining green cards for family members. Learn about the steps to sponsor family members, the I-130 application process, and the required documents for visa applications.

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Family-based immigration comprises the largest segment of the U.S. immigration system, allowing close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) to reunite with their families in America.

To be eligible to file an alien relative petition (immigration form I-130), you must be:

  • U.S. citizen, or
  • U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card holder).

Family-based immigrant visas fall into two categories: immediate relative visas and family preference visas. While each category has distinct eligibility criteria, a common requirement in all cases is that the immigrant must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who is at least 21 years of age.

Family immigration for U.S. citizens

  • Spouse
  • Minor children
  • Unmarried adult son or daughter
  • Married adult son or daughter
  • Parent
  • Brother or sister.

Family immigration for U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders)

U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents can file immigrant visa petitions for the following family members:

  • Spouse
  • Minor children
  • Unmarried adult son or daughter

A green card holder can not file an immigration petition for their married children, parents, brothers, or sisters.

Who are Immediate Relatives

The category Immediate Relatives includes:

  • Spouse of a U.S. citizen
  • Unmarried children (under 21) of a U.S. citizen
  • Parents of a U.S. citizen (21 or older)

The number of issued immigrant visas (green cards) in this category is unlimited each fiscal year.

Relatives of Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders) do not fall into these categories.

Who are Family Preference Relatives

The four categories of family preference visas are:

Visa CategorySponsoring relativeCategory of a relation
F1U.S. citizenUnmarried adult children (aged 21 or older) of U.S. citizens
F2А / F2BLawful Permanent Resident (green card holder)Spouses

Unmarried minor children (under 21) of green card holders

Unmarried adult children (aged 21 or older) of green card holders
F3U.S. citizenMarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (aged 21 or older)
F4U.S. citizenSiblings of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is aged 21 or older)

When a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident petitions for a family preference visa, the beneficiary must await their turn. The waiting duration fluctuates according to the number of previously approved I-130 applications that rank ahead. The processing time for document approval can vary; in some cases, it may exceed 15 years.

For the most up-to-date information, please check

Financial Sponsor

Every family member immigrating to the U.S. through family-based immigration must have a financial sponsor. The sponsor, either a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, must meet specific financial requirements outlined by the federal poverty guidelines.

The financial sponsor must have a household income that’s at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Required Household Income:

See the following chart of the required household income in the 2024 year.

Sponsor’s Household Size125% of HHS Poverty Guidelines
Two persons$24 650
Three persons$31 075
Four persons$37 500
Five persons$43 925
Six persons$50 350
Seven persons$56 775
Eight persons$63 200
Additional amount for each additional person+ $6 425

These income guidelines apply to the 48 Contiguous States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Different guidelines exist for Alaska, Hawaii, and sponsors in active service in the U.S. armed forces.

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Visa Application Process through Family-Based Immigration

The family-based immigration visa application process will typically follow these basic steps: 

  1. File Form I-130 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as either a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident.
  2. USCIS reviews the I-130 petition and forwards it to the National Visa Center (NVC).
  3. Collect the required documents for the sponsor and visa applicant and submit them to the NVC.
  4. Attend an interview at a U.S. consulate.

Adjustment of Status to a Family-Based Green Card in the U.S.

In certain cases, individuals who are in the United States can apply for a green card through family-based immigration without leaving the country. This process is called “Adjustment of Status.”

The family-based adjustment of status application process will typically follow these basic steps: 

  1. File Form I-130 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident.
  2. File Form I-485, Adjustment of Status, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) 
  3. File Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) 
  4. Attend an interview at a local USCIS Office.

List of the documents required for family-based immigration

Immigration officers meticulously review applications for family-based immigrants. The required documents vary depending on the case and the family member’s relationship. Key documents may include:

  • Approved petition I-130 
  • Proof of family relationships
  • Form DS-260
  • Passport
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce certificate or a certificate of a previous spouse’s death
  • Birth certificate 
  • Police clearance letter
  • Court and prison records
  • Military service records 
  • Medical exam results
  • Evidence of financial support 
  • Proof of paid immigrant visa fee 
  • Photographs in the required format.

Medical exam requirements for family-based immigration

All foreign nationals applying for an immigrant visa or Adjustment of Status must pass a medical exam conducted by authorized doctors approved by U.S. Immigration Services. The exam results are provided in a sealed envelope, which can only be opened by a U.S. immigration department officer.

Family-based visa wait times

The waiting period for a U.S. visa varies according to the type of relationship with the Green Card holder or U.S. citizen, ranging from several months to numerous years.

Simultaneously, in certain instances, a family member of a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder may lawfully remain in the United States (either partially or for the entire duration) while awaiting approval of their immigration status.

Professional help from an immigration attorney in family-based immigration

Each family immigration case is unique, with the potential for unforeseen situations, delays, or additional document requirements. For assistance with your family-based petition, consult with experienced U.S. immigration attorney Natalia Kolyada-Nelson, who has over 10 years of experience in immigration law. 

Get expert help in obtaining green cards for your relatives. You can book an appointment on our website or visit our office in Boston for in-person consultations.

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Discover answers to frequently asked questions about the I-130 petition for alien relatives in the U.S.

No, only a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder) can file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relatives.

No, the approval of the I-130 petition does not guarantee an approval of an immigration visa (green card).

You can find the current processing times on this website:

Every case is unique, and the reasons for denial can vary. Immigration services may deny a visa application if the documents are incomplete, information is hidden, the sponsoring family member doesn’t have enough income, or there is a criminal record. To avoid common issues, consider consulting an immigration attorney.


Natalia Kolyada Nelson

Experienced Immigration Attorney in Boston. Natalia represents clients in all aspects of immigration law, including family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, asylum, and deportation defense.

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Need help from the U.S. immigration attorney?

Natalia Kolyada Nelson is an experienced immigration attorney in Boston who represents clients in all aspects of U.S. immigration law.

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