The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues immigrant visas to foreign citizens who wish to obtain permanent residence in the United States and who meet certain requirements. Immigrants granted permanent resident status are given green cards and can live and work in the United States.
Foreign citizens can apply for different types of immigrant visas, including Immediate Relative visas, Family Preference visas, Diversity visas, and Work-Based visas.
Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas
Foreign citizens with direct relatives of U.S. citizens can apply for Immediate Relative Immigrant visas. Unlike other immigrant visas, the number of Immediate Relative visas issued each year is unlimited.
An immediate family member is either a spouse or an unmarried child under the age of 21, or a parent.
The following types of visas are for immediate relatives of US citizens:
To begin the process of obtaining a green card for a foreign relative (the recipient), the immediate relative who is a U.S citizen (the applicant) must submit a Form I-130, Petition of a Foreign Relative, to the USCIS.
Beneficiaries who live in the United States under a different legal status must file Form I-485, Application for Registration of Permanent Residency or Status Modification. Once the application is reviewed, the applicant may be required to attend for a biometrics collection and/or an interview.
Beneficiaries who live outside the United States must apply for an immigrant visa through the consulate in their country of origin. Upon approval of Form I-130, the USCIS will forward the petition to the National Visa Center, who will then review the documents and forward them to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the recipient’s country. The embassy or consulate determines the date of the interview, and upon successful interviewing and passing the medical examination, the beneficiary will obtain an immigrant visa.
Family Preference Immigrant Visa
Distant relatives of U.S. citizens and certain relatives of lawful permanent residents could apply for a family preference visa. The relation between the U.S. citizen or the lawful permanent resident and the relative determines the category of family preference.
The following are the categories, followed by the annual limit for visas issued in parentheses:
- The process of applying for a Family Preference Visa is the same one applied for an Immediate Relative Visa – A Form I-130 is filed to the USCIS by the applicant, then the recipient either submits Form I-485 (for those who live in the United States) or applies for an immigrant visa through the embassy or consulate in their country of origin (for those who live outside the United States).
Diversity Immigrant Visas
- Through the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, foreign citizens from countries with historically low immigration rates to the United States can apply for permanent resident status.
The number of visas issued through this program is limited to 50,000. Applicants are selected randomly according to the number of available visas for each region or country. Eligibility requirements are applied, therefore selection through this process does not necessarily guarantee the applicant will be granted an entry visa.
Emplyment-based Immigration Visa
For eligible foreign nationals, the Immigration and Naturalization Services office allows approximately 140,000 work-based visas each year. These visas are divided into five preferential categories as follows: