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Immigration Lawyer on Family Immigration Petitions

As an immigration lawyer, the most common question I get is about the timing of the sponsorship process. There is no generic answer because the timing depends on the U.S. immigration status of the person filing, the age and marital status of the beneficiary and the Department of State monthly visa bulletin. In general, when the beneficiary resides outside the U.S., the petition is handled by three different agencies as it is processed. First, the family-based petition is reviewed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where they determine that the relationship is legitimate and petition meets the requirements under the law. Once approved, the person filing will receive an approval notice, but this does not mean a visa is available to be issued. Many people get confused when they receive an approval notice and think that the approval notice means a visa will be issued soon. Any immigration lawyer will explain that the I-130 approval simply means you have established the family relationship.

At this point, if a visa is not immediately available (such as for spouse or child under age 21 of a U.S. citizen) then the petition will be held in storage until a visa is available under relevant preference category. This wait can range from 3-10 years. Unfortunately, USCIS will not notify you in writing when a visa is available. When a visa is available or near to being available, the person filing will receive a letter from the second agency that will process the petition, the National Visa Center. It is prudent at this stage in the process to hire an immigration lawyer to assist with the visa processing. The National Visa Center will request visa fees be paid for all the beneficiaries and will ask for certain documents. Once the NVC completes processing, then the file is sent to the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy is the third and last agency to review the petition. Upon approval from the U.S. Embassy, then an immigrant visa will be issued in the beneficiary’s passport.

Filing for Spouse or Child under age 21 of U.S. Citizen:

In the situation where the person filing is a U.S. citizen and the beneficiary is a spouse or child under age 21 living outside the U.S., the visa processing time can be 9-12 months. Where the spouse or child under age 21 resides in the U.S., the visa processing time can be 3-6 months. A visa is available immediately because a spouse or child under age 21 are considered immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen and have the highest preference in visa processing. It is advised to consult with an immigration lawyer on the best options for visa processing – either inside or outside the United States.

Preference Category Beneficiaries:

The following beneficiaries are considered preference category and a visa is NOT available immediately and there is a backlog on processing and visa issuance: (1) child over age 21 of a U.S. citizen; (2A) spouse and child under age 21 of a permanent resident; (2B) unmarried child over age 21 of a permanent resident; (3) married child of a U.S. citizen; (4) brother/sister of a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, the beneficiary of a preference family petition (categories 1-4) are not permitted to enter the U.S. with a B-1/B-2 or visa waiver and overstay their visit to wait on a pending filing. Note, filings under the family 1-4 categories can take 2-12 years for visa availability. Again, who can file for who and processing times can be confusing, so it is best to consult with an immigration lawyer – such as – who offers a FREE in-office consultation.

To view the most current visa bulletin or visa priority dates every month, visit