Immigration TALK: Overview of the Family Sponsorship Process
By Attorney Gail S. Seeram
The most common question I get from readers is about the timing of the sponsorship process. There is no generic answer because the timing depends on the status of the person filing and the age and marital status of the beneficiary.
In general, when the beneficiary resides outside the U.S., the petition is handled by three different agencies as it is processed. First, the family-based petition is reviewed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where they determine that the relationship is legitimate and petition meets the requirements under the law.
Once approved, the person filing will receive an approval notice, but this does not mean a visa is available to be issued. Many people get confused when they receive an approval notice and think that the approval notice means a visa will be issued soon.
At this point, if a visa is not immediately available (such as for spouse or child under age 21 of a U.S. citizen) then the petition will be held in storage until a visa is available under relevant preference category.
This wait can range from three to 10 years. Unfortunately, USCIS will not notify you in writing when a visa is available.
When a visa is available or near to being available, the person filing will receive a letter from the second agency that will process the petition, the National Visa Center.
The National Visa Center will request visa fees be paid for all the beneficiaries and will ask for certain documents.
Once the NVC completes processing, then the file is sent to the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy is the third and last agency to review the petition. Upon approval from the U.S. Embassy, then an immigrant visa will be issued in the beneficiary’s passport.
Filing for Spouse or Child under age 21 of U.S. Citizen:
In the situation where the person filing is a U.S. citizen and the beneficiary is a spouse or child under age 21 living outside the U.S., the visa processing time can be nine to 12 months.
Where the spouse or child under age 21 resides in the U.S., the visa processing time can be three to six months.
A visa is available immediately because a spouse or child under age 21 are considered immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen and have the highest preference in visa processing.
Preference Category Beneficiaries:
The following beneficiaries are considered preference category and a visa is NOT available immediately and there is a backlog on processing: (1) child over age 21 of a U.S. citizen; (2A) spouse and child under age 21 of a permanent resident; (2B) unmarried child over age 21 of a permanent resident; (3) married child of a U.S. citizen; (4) brother/sister of a U.S. citizen.
The chart below is published every month and gives you an idea of the backlog for each category: