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Family Unification

One of the most frequent ways for people to gain permanent residency (“Green Cards”) in the U.S. is through a family member who is a United States citizen or permanent resident.

An alien relative petition starts the initial process with the filing of form I-130. The United States citizen or permanent resident is called the Petitioner with the foreign-born relative being called the Beneficiary.

Certain family members may petition for their foreign-born relatives. The following list below shows the combinations for alien relative petitions:

U.S. Citizen Spouse

Child (Married or unmarried, any age)



Lawful Permanent Resident Spouse

Child(Unmarried any age)

After the I-130 petition is granted, then the beneficiary applies for permanent residency directly, if they are in the U.S., or an immigrant visa at a US embassy or consulate, if they are outside the U.S.  The beneficiary will have a Green Card at the end of the process.

The length of time a beneficiary must wait to apply for permanent residence or an immigrant visa depends on the Petitioner-Beneficiary category. Petitions by a US citizen for a spouse, child (under 21) or parent – known as “immediate relatives” – are usually the more favorable category. After these petitions are approved, beneficiaries are immediately eligible to petition for permanent residence or an immigrant visa.

If the beneficiary of an Immediate Relative petition is in the United States, they may file for a Green Card at the same time that the Petitioner files the I-130.  This filing is commonly known as a “One-Step”.

Petitions by United States citizens for adult siblings (over 21) are the least favorable category, and usually have the longest processing time. Moreover, if the beneficiary is from certain countries, such as India, Philippines or China, the waiting times could be even longer.

Fiancé(e)s (K-1 Visas)
The United States immigration system also permits for a United States citizen to apply for a fiancé or fiancée. Just as the immigrant visa process, the fiancé(e) process starts with a petition on form I-129F. Additionally, the couple must provide evidence the Petitioner is a United States citizen and that they have met in person once within the past two years. Under certain criteria, such as when the couple’s traditions forbid face-to-face meetings prior to  marriage, the government may waive the in-person meeting criteria.

Following when the I-129F petition is granted, the subsequent step is for the Beneficiary to apply for a K-1 visa at the appropriate US embassy or consulate. If the visa is then granted, the Beneficiary then enters the United States in K-1 visa status. They will have 90 days to legally marry the Petitioner. Once the couple is married, the Beneficiary is entitled to file for a Green Card.

K-3/K-4 Visas for Spouses & Children of US Citizens
The K-3/K-4 visa provides for spouses or children of United States citizens to come to the U.S. to fulfill the immigration process, rather than waiting abroad for an immigrant visa.

The process starts when the Petitioner files an immigrant petition on form I-130. Then, they must file an I-129F form. When the I-129F form is granted, notice is then sent to the US embassy or consulate, even if the I-130 petition is not yet granted/approved. The beneficiary can apply for a K-3/K-4 visa. Again, once the visa is issued, the Beneficiary can enter the U.S. and waits for the I-130 petition to be granted.  Once, the I-130 petition is granted, they will then be eligible to apply for a Green Card.

V Visas for Spouses & Children of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR)
Comparable to the K, the V visa is available for spouses and unmarried children under 21 of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR’s). To qualify for this visa, the Beneficiary shall provide that the I-130 petition was filed on or before December 21, 2000, and meet other criteria. The point of this visa is to reunite families that have been apart during the immigration proceedings.