An immediate relative (IR) visa is an immigrant visa for the spouse, parent, or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen. In this process, the relative is outside the U.S., usually in their country of citizenship.

If you want to bring an immediate relative to the U.S., the process can be long and complicated. Our Boston immigration lawyers are here to support and guide you and your family member every single step of the way, using our extensive experience with immigration law and family-based immigration in particular.

The Story Begins: Filing Form I-130

The U.S. citizen petitioner begins the process by filing a petition with USCIS in the United States via Form I-130. USCIS will review the evidence to make sure that there is a bona fide relationship between the applicant and the beneficiary. For example, parents must file copies of birth certificates for their children, and spouses must turn in proof that the marriage is bona fide.

The Tedious Middle: Waiting for Government Approval & National Visa Center Processing

USCIS will process and decide the I-130. Processing times vary, even between different USCIS service centers, but after USCIS approves an I-130, the case is sent to the National Visa Center for further processing.

The National Visa Center is part of the Department of State and prepares the case for the U.S. Consulate to interview the beneficiary. Part of that process is collecting the applicant’s criminal records, military service records, documents from the applicant’s immigration history, and biographic records.

The National Visa Center also reviews the petitioner’s Affidavit of Support and supporting information. The Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) is among the most confusing pieces of government bureaucracy ever printed, so don’t feel ashamed for consulting an immigration lawyer for assistance on this confusing requirement.

The Big Event: Visa Interview

When the National Visa Center sends the case to the consulate, the consulate will schedule an appointment for the immigrant visa interview. The beneficiary will have to have a medical exam performed by an approved doctor before the interview, and this medical exam should be scheduled as soon as possible after the consulate schedules the interview.

Our clients report that being prepared, bringing all the required evidence with them, and having a correctly prepared application lead to a short, sweet interview. However, applicants always run the risk of complications, such as delays with the medical exam results, problems with the I-864 Affidavit of Support, or past involvements with immigration that raise red flags. Consular officers can also put cases into extended background checks, called “administrative processing,” that can be very difficult to resolve. The best defense against problems at the consulate is an adeptly prepared application.

The Happy Ending: Approval & Entry into the United States

After approval, the consular officer will give the applicant a packet to be presented at the point-of-entry when they enter the United States. The consulate will take the passport to install the visa foil (the sticker in the passport), and they will return the passport by courier (or leave the passport for pickup at the Embassy).

After the visa is issued, the applicant must remember to pay a fee to the U.S.C. for them to produce the physical plastic green card. It is much faster to pay the fee while the applicant is still outside the United States, because USCIS will not produce the card until the payment clears.

The visa is valid for 6 months, so the beneficiary has 6 months to prepare for their arrival in the U.S.

Upon arrival, an officer with US Customs and Border Protection will record of the entry, review the documents from the consulate and the visa, and will stamp the passport with a I-551 stamp that is proof that the person is a permanent resident.

Epilogue: After Arrival

The physical, plastic green card will arrive several months after production is ordered, so if the beneficiary moves, they must change their address immediately with USCIS. If they don’t, the card will be delivered to the wrong address and returned to USCIS.

If you requested a Social Security number on the visa application (DS-260), then the Social Security Administration will send a Social Security card directly to you.

Until the plastic green card arrives at your house, the correct document used to show that you are authorized to work in the United States is the I-551 stamp in your passport.

How Does an Immigration Attorney Help?

No matter the type of case, our immigration attorneys at Gorton Law LLC in Malden, MA work card to give you the 3 Cs of immigration advocacy: to be your counsel, to be correct, and to be your concierge throughout the immigration process.

In the context of obtaining an immediate relative visa, an experienced immigration attorney is useful because the case will stretch over many months and involve multiple government agencies. There is the utmost need for attention to detail and close attention to the regulations and understanding of how the cases are processed. Being represented by an immigration attorney can make your life easier by knowing that the entire process will be competently and professionally handled.