Although there are many subcategories, U.S. visas fall into two basic categories: immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. Determining which type of visa is appropriate to your situation and successfully navigating the process can be complicated, and consulting an experienced immigration lawyer should be your first step.

What is an Immigrant Visa?

In simplest terms, an immigrant visa is a visa for a foreign individual who wishes to make the United States his or her permanent home. Being granted permanent residence is commonly referred to as getting a “green card.”

Permanent legal resident visa applications may be family-based or business-based.

Family-Based Immigrant Visas

The following members of a United States citizen’s family may be granted an immigrant visa:

  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Child
  • Sibling

A current green card holder may apply for an immigrant visa for his or her:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried child

However, not all of these applications are treated equally. Most importantly, certain categories are not subject to limits on the number of visas that may be granted. “Immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens do not have to wait for visas to become available. These include:

  • Parents of a U.S. citizen who is 21 years of age or older
  • The spouse of a U.S. citizen
  • Unmarried children of a U.S. citizen who are under the age of 21

Other qualified relatives such as brothers, sisters and children who are married or aged 21 or older may have to wait for a visa to become available, as do relatives of permanent legal residents of the U.S.

Preferences for those subject to visa limits are as follows:

First Preference Unmarried children of a U.S. citizen who did not qualify for the no-limit category because they are 21 years of age or older
Second Preference A Spouses of legal U.S. permanent residents
Unmarried minor (under 21) children of permanent legal residents
Second Preference B Unmarried adult (21 or older) children of permanent legal residents
Third Preference Married children of U.S. citizens, along with the spouse and children of said child
Fourth Preference Siblings of adult U.S. citizens, along with the spouse and children of said sibling

Employment-Based Immigrant Visas

Certain categories of workers may be eligible for permanent residence based on their employment or a job offer. However, unlike family-based visas, all employment-based immigrant visas are subject to limits. That means that the person hoping to become a legal resident will have to wait until an immigrant visa number becomes available.

Immigrant visa numbers are issued to employment-based applicants according to the following priorities:

First Preference Priority Workers:

-Aliens with extraordinary abilities

-Outstanding researchers and professors

-Certain multinational managers and executives

Second Preference -Members of professions holding an advanced degree

-Persons of exceptional ability

Third Preference -Skilled workers


-Other qualified workers

Fourth Preference “Special immigrants” such as those in religious vocations
Fifth Preference Investors and entrepreneurs who will create jobs

Whether you are seeking an employment-based visa or fall into one of the family-based categories that requires waiting for a visa number to become available, wait times may vary significantly. In addition to the preference rankings above, the timeline will also be impacted by the applicant’s priority date and the country the visa will be “charged” to.

Other Immigrant Visa Qualifications

There are certain special programs that open up eligibility for a green card to persons who do not fall into one of the categories above. If you are interested in immigrating to the U.S., bringing a family member who is not listed above to the U.S. or establishing residence for an employee who is not otherwise listed, speak with an immigration attorney to learn more about the alternative routes to permanent residence.

Petitioning for an Immigrant Visa

The immigration process is commenced by the filing of a petition on behalf of the person hoping to become a legal resident of the U.S. The exact process differs somewhat depending on the type of immigrant visa requested. For example, a family-based case begins with the submission of Form I-130, petition for Alien Relative. An employment-based case is typically commenced by the filing of form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker.

Eligibility for Admission

Every person hoping to gain entrance to the U.S. or remain in the U.S. as a permanent legal resident, including those in no-limit categories, must first establish admissibility. A person may be disqualified from receiving an immigrant visa for a number of reasons, including:

  • Medical problems
  • Criminal history
  • Security concerns

Talk to an Immigration Lawyer about Immigrant Visas

Putting together a thorough, accurate and properly-constructed petition is the first step toward becoming a legal U.S. resident or helping your family member or employee to obtain an immigrant visa. An experienced immigration lawyer can be your most powerful tool in this process. Contact Pride Immigration for more information.

The following two tabs change content below.

Beeraj Patel, Esq.

Partner at KPPB Law
Beeraj Patel's philosophy is simple - make it easy for talented and ambitious individuals to have access to immigration materials so that they can make the choice which is right for them.
Call Now Button