Skip to main content

Tips for United States Visas: Immigrant

IMMIGRANTS Immigrants to the United States are divided into two categories: (I) those who may obtain permanent residence status without numerical limitation, and (II) those subject to an annual limitation. The latter category is further divided into (A) family-sponsored, (B) employment-based, and (C) diversity immigrants.


A. Immediate Relatives: The spouse, widow(er) and minor unmarried children of a United States citizen, and the parents of a United States citizen who is 21 or older.

B. Returning Residents: Previous U.S. lawful permanent residents who are returning to the U.S. after a stay of more than one year abroad.


Subject to certain transitional laws, immigration into the United States beginning in 1995 will be limited to 675,000 persons per year. That figure is divided into three distinct sub-categories.

A. Family-Based

Preference relatives may receive all of the visas not used by Immediate Relatives, but no less than 226,000 visas per year. Family-based preference categories (with miminum limits in parentheses) include:

1. First Preference: Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and children if any. (23,400)

2. Second Preference: Spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent resident aliens. (114,200)

3. Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children. (23,400)

4. Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children, provided the U.S. citizens are over 20. (65,000)

B. Employment-Based

A total of 140,000 immigrant visas yearly are available for this category which is divided into five preference groups (percent of yearly limit):

1. Priority Workers: Persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; and certain multinational executives and managers (28.6%).

2. Members of the Professions: Professionals holding advanced degrees, and persons of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, and business (28.6%).

3. Professionals, Skilled and Unskilled Workers: Professionals holding baccalaureate degrees, skilled workers with at least two years experience, and other workers whose skills are in short supply in the United States (28.6%).

4. Special Immigrants: Certain religious workers, ministers of religion, certain international organization employees and their immediate family members, and qualified, recommended current and former U.S. Government employees. (7.1%).

5. Investors: Persons who create employment for at least ten unrelated persons by investing capital in a new commercial enterprise in the United States. The minimum capital required is between $500,000 and $1,000,000, depending on the employment rate in the geographic area (7.1%).

C. Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery

The Diversity Lottery makes available 55,000 immigrant visa numbers annually to persons selected at random from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. There is a separate registration for each year's visas. Information on registration for the lottery is announced each year by the State Department.


Certain applicants such as priority workers, investors, certain special immigrants, and diversity immigrants can petition on their own behalf. All others must have a relative or potential employer petition for them.

Applicants for family-sponsored immigrant visas should request the U.S. citizen relative to file a petition Form I-130 with the nearest Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In some cases, if the U.S. citizen is residing abroad, he or she may file the petition with a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Applicants for employment-based immigrant visas may require an approved petition Form I-140 from the INS. Priority workers may petition on their own behalf with the INS, while others must have their prospective employers file the petitions. Prior to filing a petition with the INS, members of the profession, professionals, skilled and unskilled workers, must obtain certifications from the Department of Labor that there are no qualified workers available for the proposed employment in the U.S.

Special immigrant returning residents and U.S. Government employees must apply to the Secretary of State through a U.S. consular office abroad. All other special immigrants must file the I-360 petition with INS.

An investor must file a Form-I-526 petition with the INS.

Diversity immigrants must file an application with the U.S. Department of State. Information on registration will be announced each year by the State Department.

The State Department will advise the beneficiary of the petition (the applicant for a visa) when it is received from the approving office. The visa applicant will receive further instructions at that time.


The immigration laws of the United States, in order to protect the health, welfare, and security of the U.S., prohibit visa issuance to certain applicants. This includes persons who have a communicable disease such as tuberculosis, or have a dangerous physical or mental disorder, or are drug addicts; have committed serious criminal acts, including crimes involving moral turpitude, drug trafficking, and prostitution or procuring; are terrorists, subversives, members of a totalitarian party or former Nazi war criminals; are likely to become public charges in the U. S.; have used fraud or other illegal means to enter the U.S.; or are ineligible for citizenship. Some former exchange visitors must live abroad 2 years. Physicians who intend to practice medicine must pass a qualifying exam before receiving immigrant visas.

If any of the above restrictions might apply, then a statement regarding the facts should be submitted to the consular officer, who will advise the applicant if the law provides for some form of waiver.


Documents for Application

All applicants must submit certain personal documents such as passports, birth certificates, police certificates, and other civil documents, as well as evidence that they will not become public charges in the U.S. The consular officer will inform visa applicants of the documents needed as their applications are processed.

Medical Examinations

Before the issuance of an immigrant visa, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination. The examination will be conducted by a doctor designated by the consular officer. Examination costs must be borne by the applicant.

Visa Fees

The cost of each formal immigrant visa application is US$260 and issuance is US$65. Fees must be paid per person regardless of age, and are not refundable. Local currency equivalents are acceptable. Fees should not be sent to the consular office unless specifically requested. The INS charges additional fees for filing petitions.

Numerical Limitations

Whenever there are more qualified applicants for a category than there are available numbers, the category will be considered oversubscribed, and immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the numerical limit for the category is reached. The filing date of a petition becomes the priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant's priority date is reached. In certain oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is reached. For the latest priority dates, call 202-663-1541.


Since no advance assurances can be given that a visa will be issued, applicants are advised not to make any final travel arrangements, not to dispose of their property, and not to give up their jobs until visas have been issued to them. An immigrant visa is valid for four months from date of issuance.

With few exceptions, a person born in the U.S. has a claim to U.S. citizenship. Persons born in countries other than the U.S. may have a claim, under U.S. law, to U.S. nationality if: Either parent was born or naturalized in the United States, or Either parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the applicant's birth.

Any applicant believing that he or she may have a claim to United States citizenship should not apply for a visa until his or her citizenship has been determined by the consular office.


Further information about the specific categories of immigrant visas listed above are available from the nearest American consular office abroad or local INS.

Bureau of Consular Affairs
Visa Services
February 1998

Was this helpful?

Thank you. Your response has been sent.

Copied to clipboard