Family petitions: options & considerations

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Living in the United States as an immigrant has its struggles, but it also comes with an opportunity for a better life for those who leave their home country to pursue the American Dream. 

Many immigrants arrive alone, hoping to bring their loved ones when they are financially stable and have legal status.

Family petitions help to reunite families

Family petitions are a terrific opportunity to bring their family to live with them. Nevertheless, the process takes time, and may be tricky if you do not understand immigration laws or have an experienced lawyer to guide you.

Some people try to complete the process on their own or with basic help to fill out the forms; however, this may jeopardize the result of the petition or add more time to a lengthy and complicated process.

To apply successfully for a Family Visa, it is necessary to clearly understand the immigration history of both the petitioner and the beneficiary, to identify possible problems and alternative solutions in advance.

It is also necessary to handle expectations and verify the estimated time frames for processing and the waiting time for family visas in a Preference Category. 

The process consists of two main phases:

Phase 1 – Petitioner files I-130:

The petitioner (U.S citizen or Legal Resident) files petition I-130 to establish the relationship to the qualifying beneficiary. Filing I-130 is the starting point for the beneficiary to “get in line” to continue the process. 

Phase 2 – Beneficiary applies for residency:

Once the petition is approved and there is an available visa, the beneficiary applies for residency (green card), through an Adjustment of Status or a Consular Process, depending on their current location and immigration history.

¿What are the differences between a Citizen and a Resident (LPR or Green Card holder), when petitioning family members?

Both residents and citizens may petition for Family Visas. Still, there are a couple of differences in the family members they can petition (according to their relationship) and the waiting times for a visa to be available.

Family Visas for Citizens

Whom can you petition?

A U.S. citizen who is 21 years or older may petition for their:

  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Children under 21
  • Unmarried sons or daughters
  • Married sons or daughters
  • Siblings
Visa Availability:

At the current time (December 2022) visas are available for spouses, parents, and children under 21 (immediate relatives), but there is a waiting period for older sons or daughters and siblings. 

Even if you are filing for an immediate relative, there will be a waiting time while USCIS processes and approves all documents.

Family Visas for Green Card holders

Whom can you petition?

A Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card holder) may petition: 

  • Spouse
  • Children under 21
  • Unmarried sons or daughters
Visa Availability:

Currently (December 2022), visas are available for spouses and children under 21, but there is a waiting period for older sons and daughters. 

There may be an option to petition your family members

Preference Categories for Family Visas

The family relationship with the petitioner determines the category assigned to the beneficiary. There is a maximum number of visas allocated for each category per fiscal year, so there may be a wait for a visa. There are also limits on the number of visas available for certain countries. 

If a visa is not currently available for a family member in a Preference Category:

  • Check the Visa Bulletin every month!
  • Green card applications should be filed by the beneficiary when their preferred date (usually the day of the form submission to USCIS) is earlier than the date under “dates for filing” in the Visa Bulletin. .
  • When applying for residency, the beneficiary may want to apply for a combined EAD/AP card (work permit and travel authorization) to reduce the waiting time for these additional documents.


  • Assess all available options and risks with an immigration lawyer: every case is unique and should consider possible legal implications, especially when reviewing the beneficiary’s immigration history. In some scenarios, additional steps are needed, such as requesting a Waiver for Inadmissibility or Parole, to avoid certain “traps.”
  • Get in line! All migratory processes take time. The sooner you start yours, the soonest you will be able to reunite with your family.  The waiting time may seem endless at first, but time flies, and your case will move along.
  • If something changes, adjust the strategy: If your family situation varies or there are changes in immigration laws, make sure to check and /or adapt the plan. With time children get older, couples get married, families make decisions, and your petition panorama may change as well. Inform your lawyer! For example, if you apply while you’re a resident but then you naturalize (become a citizen), the petition may be updated. Naturalization may reduce the waiting time for an available visa. 

At Armstrong Legal we would love to hear about your personal immigration story and guide you through the process of reuniting with your family.

Our office is in Dallas, Texas, but we also offer telephone and virtual consultations. Call us at (469) 844-0020. We will be happy to help!