Unlocking the Pathways: Exploring Family-Based Immigration

Posted on Sep 6, 2023 by Chris Prescott

Bringing families together across international borders is a fundamental part of immigration policies. Family-based immigration not only unifies families but also contributes to cultural diversity and economic growth. Currently, there are various visa options that make this reunification possible. In this article, we explore the visa options and other key factors within family-based immigration, shedding light on requirements and benefits that each pathway offers.

1. Immediate Relative Visas: The Foundation of Family Reunification

Immediate Relative Visas are often considered the cornerstone of family-based immigration. These visas are designed for those relatives closest in relation to U.S. citizens, including spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents. They offer a streamlined process enabling families to overcome physical distances and legal barriers.

Even though the USCIS and DOS offer a streamlined process for these immediate relatives, the existing delays in processing should be considered when opting for this avenue of immigration.

Although USCIS and Department of State (DOS) claim that they prioritize these cases, we have seen lengthier delays in processing. In particular, the consular processing stage seems to have the longest delays, as many consulates are still limited on their in-person services.  These delays began during the 2020 COVID pandemic and many consulates have not fully recovered.  Thus, we have seen interviews take well over 6 months to get scheduled. 

2. Family Preference Visas: Embracing Extended Family Ties

For those beyond the immediate relative category, Family Preference Visas provide alternative pathways for family reunification. These visas are divided into four preference categories, including:

  1. Unmarried Sones and Daughters of US Citizens (over the age of 21)
  2. Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents
  3. Married Sons and Daughters of US Citizens 
  4. Brothers and Sisters of US Citizens.

These visas remain essential for expanding the scope of family-based immigration. However, many family members will have to wait years before they will be eligible for a visa. This is due to the annual numerical quotas and the high demand for the visas. For example, a sibling from India will likely wait over 15 years to become eligible for a visa. 

To determine a relative’s eligibility, it will be essential to keep track of the DOS visa bulletin, which is released every month.  For more information on the visa bulletin, please see our other PLG article, “Breaking Down the Complexities of the Visa Bulletin: What You Need to Know.

3. Special Cases: VAWA and K Visas

Family-based immigration also addresses unique situations, such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petition, which empowers abused spouses and children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents to seek legal status independently. Similarly, K Visas cater to the fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens and their accompanying children, enabling them to enter the country for the purpose of marriage and eventual adjustment of status.

Our office specializes in K visas and has assisted numerous couples in starting their lives together in the US.  For more information on this option, please see our recent article, “Love Knows No Borders: Understanding the I-129F Fiancé Visa for International Couples.

4. Conditional Residency: The Two-Step Process

Conditional and unconditional green cards play a crucial role in family-based immigration for certain relationships, particularly spouses. Conditional green cards are issued when the marriage is less than 2 years old. These green cards have a limited validity of 2 years.  To remove the conditions, the couple is required to submit a separate petition (Form I-751) to demonstrate the legitimacy of their marriage. Upon successful verification, the conditions are removed, paving the way to citizenship. This two-step process ensures the authenticity of relationships and safeguards against potential fraud.

For more information on the I-751 process, please see our I-751 flowchart.

5. Keeping the Dream Alive: Visas for Widows and Widowers

In cases where a foreign national’s U.S. citizen spouse passes away, certain options allow widows and widowers to continue their journey toward legal residency. These provisions recognize the enduring impact of familial relationships, even in the face of loss, and offer a pathway for them to remain connected to their loved ones.

Specific requirements must be met in order to still qualify for this option, including:

  • The surviving relative must have been residing in the US at the time of the individual’s passing;
  • The surviving relative must continue to reside in the US in the date USCIS made a decision on the pending case;
  • The surviving relative is at least one of the following;
    • A beneficiary of a pending or approved immediate relative petition; 
    • A beneficiary of a pending or approved family-based immigrant petition;
    • Any derivative beneficiary of a pending or approved employment based petition;
    • The beneficiary of a pending or approved Refugee/Asylee petition; 
    • A person admitted as a derivative T or U nonimmigrant; or 
    • A derivative asylee. 


Family-based immigration is a powerful force that brings people together, transcending borders and enriching societies. While processing times keep getting longer, these visa options still offer hope to families that they will eventually be united. 

Although USCIS and DOS have a streamlined process for these immigrants, understanding the requirements and working with these agencies can be problematic.  Please feel free to reach out to our office if you have any questions regarding these family-based options at 972-650-6848 or cprescott@pagellegal.com.