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Sponsoring an Immediate Relative to the US: Family Sponsorship

Many people in the United States have family members living in other countries, and wonder whether they can bring them here. To promote family unity, U.S. immigration law allows U.S. citizens to petition for a spouse, child or parent to come and live permanently in the United States.

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Who Is Eligible to Sponsor a Family Member

Many people in the United States have family members living in other countries, and wonder whether they can bring them here. To promote family unity, US immigration law allows US citizens to petition for a spouse, child, or parent to come and live permanently in the United States. If you are a US citizen, you can file a petition for your immediate relatives. Immediate relatives are defined by immigration law as US citizens who are a:

IR-1: Spouse of a US Citizen

A spouse is a legally wedded husband or wife.  Common-law spouses may qualify as spouses for immigration purposes depending on the laws of the country where the common-law marriage occurs. In cases of polygamy, only the first spouse may qualify as a spouse for immigration.

IR-2: Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a US Citizen

The child of the US citizen must be:

  • Under 21 years old
  • Unmarried
  • Living in a foreign country
  • Has been living with adoptive US citizen parents for at least 2 years

IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a US Citizen

Parents must accrue two years of legal and physical custody and obtain a full, final adoption of the child to be eligible to file an I-130. Legal and physical custody can be accrued at one stretch of time or cumulatively over several periods. They can also be accrued before, during and after the adoption. The two years must be accrued BEFORE you file Form I-130.

IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the US by a US Citizen

The IR-4 US Visa enables parents to secure custody of the child in a different country and take the child into the US to finish the adoption process while the IR-3 US Visa allows the parents from the US to complete the adoption process in a different country before the child can get his/her US Visa.

IR-5: Parent of a US Citizen who is at least 21 years old

To be eligible for the IR5 visa, there are some criteria that both the US citizen and their parent must fulfill, as below:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Have financial stability to support their parent until they start working
  • Live in the US and have a valid US address
  • The parent must be from a foreign country
  • The US citizen and their parent must prove their relationship through a valid birth certificate

If you are interested in sponsoring a sibling, check out our page on US Family Preference Page.

How to Apply

The family-based immigration process generally begins with the US citizen or permanent resident filing Form I-130 which is the Petition for Alien Relative. The I-130 petition establishes a qualifying relationship and is a request for a visa number. In certain circumstances, a US citizen living abroad can file an immigrant visa petition outside the United States.

Fees, Affidavit of Support, and Visa Application

After USCIS approves the petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once received, the NVC will assign a case number for the petition. For family preference immigrant visa cases, when an applicant’s priority date meets the most recent qualifying date, the NVC will instruct the applicant to complete Form DS-261. The NVC will begin pre-processing the applicant’s case by providing the applicant and petitioner with instructions to submit the appropriate fees. After the appropriate fees are paid, the NVC will request that the applicant submit the necessary immigrant visa documents, including the Affidavit of Support, application forms, civil documents, and more.

Required Documentation

In general, the following documents are required:

  • Passport(s) valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the United States, unless longer validity is specifically requested by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your country.
  • Affidavit of Support Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application.
  • Two (2) 2×2 photographs. See the required photo format explained in Photograph Requirements.
  • Civil Documents for the applicant (and petitioner in F4 cases). See Documents the Applicant Must Submit for more specific information about documentation requirements, including information on which documents may need to be translated. The consular officer may ask for more information during your visa interview. Bring your original civil documents (or certified copies), such as birth and marriage certificates, as well as legible photocopies of the original civil documents, and any required translations to your immigrant visa interview. Original documents and translations can then be returned to you.
  • Completed Medical Examination Forms – These are provided by the panel physician after you have completed your medical examination and vaccinations.

Required Medical Examination and Vaccinations

In preparing for your interview, you will need to schedule and complete your medical examination and any required vaccinations before your visa interview. Before an immigrant visa can be issued, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination which must be performed by an authorized panel physician. NVC provides applicants instructions regarding medical examinations, including information on authorized panel physicians. See Medical Examination for more information. See Vaccination Requirements for IV Applicants for the list of required vaccinations and additional information.


Certain conditions and activities may make an applicant ineligible for a visa. Examples of these ineligibilities include: drug trafficking; overstaying a previous visa; and submitting fraudulent documents. If you are ineligible for a visa, you will be informed by the consular officer and advised whether there is a waiver of the ineligibility available to you and what the waiver process is.

Green Card Interview

Once the NVC determines the file is complete with all the required documents, they schedule the applicant’s interview appointment. NVC then sends the file, containing the applicant’s petition and the documents listed above, to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant will be interviewed for a visa. The applicant, attorney, and third-party agent, if applicable, will receive appointment emails, or letters (if no email address is available), containing the date and time of the applicant’s visa interview along with instructions, including guidance for obtaining a medical examination.

Each applicant should bring a valid passport to the interview, as well as any other documentation above not already provided to NVC. A consular officer will interview the applicant, and the consular officer will determine whether the applicant is eligible to receive an immigrant visa in accordance with U.S. immigration law. Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken on the day of the interview. Generally, an applicant receives original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.

Why Legal Help for Family Sponsorship is Important

Although the concept of family sponsorship seems straightforward, there are many exceptions and details of which to be aware. Instead of risking having your efforts rejected due to a missing detail on a document or an ineligible scenario, we recommend consulting with an experienced legal attorney who knows how to properly prepare successful family sponsorship applications.

Why Hire Us to Assist Your Family Sponsorship Case?

Since there are a limited amount of visas available under the Family Preference category, getting the application right the first time is vital. Even though there are unlimited visas available for immediate relatives, an application needs to be prepared properly. We have helped thousands of individuals to successfully get U.S. permanent residence through family-based petitions, and we can help you too!