A foreign citizen seeking to immigrate generally must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident immediate relative(s), or prospective U.S. employer, and have an approved petition before applying for an immigrant visa.
Each year, the Department of State conducts a random selection of Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) applicants, based on allocations of available visas in each region and country, from all registered entries.
Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for a class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants,” from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. A limited number of visas are available each fiscal year. The DVs are distributed among six geographic regions and no single country may receive more than seven percent of the available DVs in any one year.
Family Based Visa
Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas (Unlimited): These visa types are based on a close family relationship with a United States (U.S.) citizen described as an Immediate Relative (IR). The number of immigrants in these categories is not limited each fiscal year. Immediate relative visa types include:
- IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. Citizen
- IR-2: Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen
- IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen
- IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
- IR-5: Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old
Family Preference Immigrant Visas (Limited): These visa types are for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). There are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants, shown at the end of each category. The family preference categories are:
- Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. (23,400)
- Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs. At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters. (114,200)
- Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children. (23,400)
- Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000)
If you are a U.S. citizen you have two ways to bring your foreign spouse (husband or wife) to the United States to live. They are
- Immigrant visa for a Spouse of a U.S. Citizen (IR1 or CR1) - An immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130 is required.
- Nonimmigrant visa for spouse (K-3) - It is important to note that application for the nonimmigrant visa for spouse (K-3) who married a U.S. citizen must be filed and the visa must be issued in the country where the marriage took place. After the visa process has been completed, and the visa is issued, the spouse can travel to the United States to wait for the processing of the immigrant visa case. Two petitions are required: Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130, and Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), Form I-129F.
If you are a U.S. citizen, you may bring your fiancé(e) to the United States to marry and live here, with a nonimmigrant visa for a fiancé(e) (K-1). An I-129F fiancé(e) petition is required. Learn more.
Intercountry Adoption Visa
Each year thousands of U.S. citizens adopt children from abroad and many families in other countries adopt U.S. children. Intercountry adoption is governed by both the laws of the country in which the child lives and the country in which the adoptive parents live. Under U.S. law, there are two distinct intercountry adoption processes: the Hague Convention process and the non-Hague Convention process. Which process you will follow will depend on whether or not the other country involved is also a party to the Hague Convention.
Intercountry adoption is the process by which you:
- Adopt a child from a country other than your own through permanent legal means; and
- Bring that child to your country of residence to live with you permanently.
Special Immigrant Visa
Iraqi or Afghan Translators/Interpreters
Section 1059 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, authorizes the issuance of up to 50 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) annually to Iraqi and Afghan translators and interpreters working for the U.S. military and who meet certain requirements. An amendment to Section 1059 expanded the total number of visas to 500 per year for FY 2007 and FY 2008 only. In FY 2009, the number of visas available for this category reverted to 50 annually. As amended, the Act provides for SIV status for eligible Iraqi or Afghan translators and interpreters, who have worked directly with the U.S. Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission (COM) authority at U.S. Embassy Baghdad or U.S. Embassy Kabul.
Iraqis Who Were Employed by/on Behalf of the U.S. Government
Section 1244 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, authorized the issuance of up to 5,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) annually through fiscal year (FY) 2013 to Iraqi nationals who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq and who meet certain requirements. Subsequent legislation extended this program from October 1 until December 31, 2013. This program was again extended through legislation effective January 1, 2014. The SIV process is available to Iraqi employees and contractors who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003 and prior to September 30, 2013, for a period of one year or more, and who have experienced or are experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment.
Afghans Who Were Employed by/on Behalf of the U.S. Government
A special immigrant is a person who qualifies for lawful permanent residence under one of several programs. Section 602(b) of the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, as amended, is a special immigrant program which authorizes the issuance of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghan nationals who meet certain requirements and who were employed in Afghanistan:
- by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan, or
- by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or a successor mission, in a capacity that required the applicant to serve as an interpreter or translator for U.S. military personnel while traveling off-base with U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF or to perform sensitive and trusted activities for U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF.
U.S. immigration law provides for two categories of immigrant visas for religious workers:
- Ministers of Religion (SD-category); and
- Certain Religious Workers (SR-category).
Both of these immigrant religious worker categories are included in the Employment Fourth Preference (E4): Certain Special Immigrants category and are separate and distinct from the nonimmigrant Temporary Religious Workers category.
Other Special Immigrants
Every fiscal year (October 1st – September 30th), approximately 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas are made available to qualified applicants under the provisions of U.S. immigration law. Employment based immigrant visas are divided into five preference categories. Certain spouses and children may accompany or follow-to-join employment-based immigrants.