Generally, for foreign citizens to be eligible for an immigrant visa, they must be sponsored by a U.S. Citizen relative, U.S. Green Card Holder (LPR) or by a prospective employer, and be the beneficiary of an approved petition filed with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS. Below is a helpful explanation from the U.S. State Department. There are also helpful links with much more detailed information.
Family Based Immigration
Two groups of family based immigrant visa categories, including immediate relatives and family preference categories, are provided under the provisions of United States immigration law, specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
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:
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:
Note: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.
Numerical Limitations for Limited Family-based Preference Categories
Whenever the number of qualified applicants for a category exceeds the available immigrant visas, there will be an immigration wait. In this situation, the available immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed using their priority date. The filing date of a petition becomes what is called the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached. In certain categories with many approved petitions compared to available visas, there may be a waiting period of several years, or more, before a priority date is reached. Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates.
Returning Resident Immigrant Visas (SB) – A lawful permanent resident (LPR) who has remained outside the U.S. for longer than twelve months, or beyond the validity period of a re-entry permit, will require a new immigrant visa to enter the U.S. and resume permanent residence. A provision exists under U.S. visa law for the issuance of a returning resident special immigrant visa to an LPR who remained outside the U.S. due to circumstances beyond his/her control. For more information about international travel as a LPR, and returning resident immigrant visas, visit ourReturning Resident webpage.