United States citizens and Legal Permanent Residents can sponsor certain family members so that they too can live and work in the United States as legal permanent residents. This is called Family Based Immigration, and it is the most common way to become a legal permanent resident in the United States. In most cases this is done in a two-steps process. Step number one is called The Family Visa Petition. The second step is submitting the application to become a legal permanent resident.
Step One: The Family Visa Petition
For a foreign person to become a legal permanent resident through a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident relative, the U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident relative first has to prove to the U.S. government that she is in fact has the required family relationship with the sponsoring U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative. Said in a different way, the U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident relative must “petition” the U.S. government to allow their foreign family member to apply for the immigration benefit called legal permanent residence.
Filing the family visa petition creates the sponsorship of petitioner-beneficiary relation between the U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident relative and the foreign family member. The sponsoring U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident that files the family visa petition is known as the petitioner, and the sponsored foreign relative is called the beneficiary.
To create a petitioner-beneficiary relationship, the U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident relative must complete a form I-130 called “Petition for Alien Relative”. This is also known as filing the family petition or filing the visa petition. Only U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can file a petition for alien relative on behalf of a foreign family member.
When the U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident successfully submits a Petition for Alien Relative on behalf of a foreign family member, the U.S. government will certify two facts:
The Petitioner and the Beneficiary have the family relationship required for sponsorship.
The Petitioner is in fact either a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident.
When the sponsor relative establishes those two facts, the U.S. government must approve the family visa petition, successfully completing step one of the process of sponsoring the foreign family member to become a legal permanent resident.
Step Two: Submitting the Application for Legal Permanent Residence
When the U.S. government approves the petition for alien relative (I-130 Form) and an permanent residence is available for the foreign family member, the U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident petitioner can submit the application on behalf of the foreign relative, so that she can become a permanent resident. This is also known as applying for an Immigrant Visa or Green Card.
The end goal of step number two is that at the end of the process the foreign family member becomes a legal permanent resident.