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Difference between a Family-Based Immigrant Visa and a Green Card


A family-based immigrant visa is a document that allows a person to enter the United States. Visas will allow a person to enter for a specific duration and for a particular purpose. Meanwhile, a Green Card is a document that the family-member will receive after they enter the U.S. The Green Card will allow them to work and travel and is generally valid for TEN (10) years. The Green Card can be renewed indefinitely, if certain conditions are met.

What is the difference between unlimited and limited family-based visa?

When a U.S. citizen files an immigrant petition for their spouse, parents, and/or unmarried child under 21, the respective family member can enter the U.S. immediately. This means that after the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative is approved, the National Visa Center (NVC) will notify the U.S. citizen that a visa is immediately available for their family members. There is no annual limit on the number of family members that can enter in these categories (unlimited).

When a U.S. citizen files an immigrant petition for their married children, unmarried children over 21, and/or siblings, the respective family member cannot enter the U.S. immediately. This means that after the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative is approved, the family member will need to wait until a visa number becomes available. There is an annual cap or a numerical limit on the number of family members that can enter the U.S. for these particular “preference categories” (limited). The current waiting time for these respective family members can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin, which is updated monthly.

When a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card holder) files an immigrant petition for their spouse or children, they will also have to wait until a visa number becomes available. The current waiting time for these respective family members can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin, which is updated monthly.

What constitutes “family”?

U.S. citizens can file for their fiancée, spouse, biological children, stepchildren, adopted children, parents, and siblings.

U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) can only file for their spouse, biological children, stepchildren, and adopted children. Green Card holders cannot file for their fiancé, parents, or siblings.

What petition must be filed for a family-based immigration visa?

The U.S. citizen or Green Card holder must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Filing directly at the U.S. consulate or embassy abroad is available in limited circumstances (https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/immigrate/immigrant-process/petition/file/filing-immigrant-petitions-outside-the-u-s.html).

Incorrectly completing the forms may lead to delays, denials, loss time, and problems during the visa appointment.

Who is eligible to apply for family-based visa?

Only a foreign national with an approved I-130, Petition for Alien Relative can apply for a family-based visa. Additionally, if the foreign national is not considered an immediate relative, his/her preference category’s priority date must be current.

Who is eligible to be a sponsor?

In general, U.S. citizens and Green Card holders can be sponsors for family-based immigrant petitions. However, there are various reasons that would disqualify U.S. citizens and Green Card holders from becoming a sponsor, such as not paying taxes, not paying child support, low income, prior criminal record, prior marriage fraud, etc.

What does a sponsor need to do to start the immigration process?

Every case is different and there is no “one size fits all” checklist available. Call our office to schedule a free phone, Skype, or in-person consultation to discuss your case.

For more information on Family-Based Visa vs. Green Card, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (281) 777-1236 today.

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