Who qualifies for a family petition?

In my column This week's Consulta Migratoria® explains how to immigrate to the United States through a family member.

Each case is different and the answers vary depending on the immigration history of each person. Here I provide general answers to your questions. Please consult with an immigration attorney to receive personalized legal advice before beginning any process.

This is the column:

I frequently receive questions from readers who want to know if they can immigrate to the United States through a family member. This is a great benefit, but there are some exceptions and conditions that reduce the eligibility of certain individuals to obtain permanent residency.

Below I explain how family petitions work, who you can petition, the costs and benefits.

What is a family petition?

A family petition allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to petition for certain of their foreign relatives.

What family members can a U.S. citizen ask for?

  • Parents
  • Spouse
  • Unmarried or married children.
  • Unmarried or married siblings.

A citizen must be 21 years of age or older to petition for parents and siblings.

If the citizen's son or brother is married, his wife and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be able to immigrate through the family derivative petition.

What family members can a permanent resident petition for?

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried children of any age.

Is it possible to ask a stepfather, stepchild or stepbrother?

A citizen may petition for a stepparent, if the citizen was under the age of 18 when the citizen's parents married.

A citizen or permanent resident may petition for a stepchild if the stepchild was under the age of 18 when he or she married the stepchild's mother or father.

A citizen may petition for a step-sibling, if the step-sibling was under the age of 18 when the citizen's parents and the step-sibling married.

Documentation required to request a family member

The citizen or permanent resident must provide documentation that proves his or her legal status. For example, a U.S. passport or birth certificate, naturalization certificate or permanent resident card.

Also, you need to present evidence of relationship such as marriage or birth certificates.

If the family petition is for a spouse, you must submit evidence that the marriage is bona fide and not just for immigration benefits. Here is some evidence you may be able to submit: birth certificates of children in common, joint bank statements, and property titles or leases showing the names of both spouses.

If the family petition is approved, the citizen or permanent resident will have to provide a letter of support and demonstrate that the immigrant will not become a public charge when applying for an immigrant visa.

Family petition processing times

This procedure has two stages. In the first stage, you must file a family petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and wait for approval.

In the second, the foreign national applies for an immigrant visa inside or outside the United States, based on the family petition approved by the USCIS.

Immigrant visas are always available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, parents, spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age.

Other relatives are placed in family categories depending on the kinship. The family categories are as follows:

  • First preference: unmarried children, over 21 years of age, of U.S. citizens.
  • Second preference A: Spouses of permanent residents and unmarried children, under 21 years of age, of permanent residents.
  • Second preference B: unmarried children, over 21 years of age, of permanent residents.
  • Third preference: Married children of U.S. citizens, their spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age.
  • Fourth preference: siblings of U.S. citizens, their spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age.

Processing times for obtaining an immigrant visa through a family-based petition vary depending on the relative being petitioned and the alien's country of origin.

The processing times for a family petition and obtaining an immigrant visa can be found in the USCIS website and the Department of State's Visa Bulletin.


The federal government currently charges the following rates:

  • $420 to file a family petition.
  • $1.070 to file an application for adjustment of status, if the alien will be seeking permanent residence within the United States.
  • $445 for consular processing, if the alien will apply for permanent residence abroad.

In addition to the federal government fees, the immigrant will have to invest in other expenses related to the process, including medical examinations and legal fees, if the person needs assistance from an immigration attorney or federally accredited representative.


All applicants for permanent residence must be admissible to the country. Persons with an immigration or criminal record may not be eligible. Therefore, they should have their case analyzed before initiating any immigration proceedings.

The petitioner and the alien must be carefully evaluated by an immigration attorney to determine if both are eligible to file.

The federal government does not reimburse immigration processing fees if the individual is not eligible for permanent residence.

Never lie on immigration paperwork. Immigration fraud is severely penalized by the U.S. government.

If in doubt, consult an immigration attorney for proper advice.

For more information and immigration tips, read my blog InmigracionHoy.com.

Send your questions to preguntas@consultamigratoria.com. Include detailed information about your situation to better answer your questions.

Nelson A. Castillo, Esq. is an immigration attorney and author of La Tarjeta Verde: Cómo Obtener la Residencia Permanente en los Estados Unidos (Green Card: How to Obtain Permanent Residence in the United States) and presenter of immigration television segments of The Lawyer at Your Side in NY1 News. He is a past President of the Hispanic National Bar Association and current President of the Westlake South Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. For information on how to contact Dr. Castillo, please click here. click here.

The purpose of this column is to provide general information. There can be no guarantee or prediction as to what will be the outcome of the information presented by Dr. Nelson A. Castillo. The information should not be taken as legal advice for any individual, case or situation. This column may be considered an advertisement under the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys in several states, including California and New York. Consult with an immigration attorney for personalized legal advice before beginning any immigration proceedings.