Parents of children who are U.S. citizens have a special process by which they can immigrate to the United States. This procedure often involves applying for an IR5 visa and green card at the same time. The IR5 visa allows the parent to enter the United States, while the green card gives the parent lawful permanent residency status once they arrive. Read on to learn how this IR5 visa and green card process works and what’s required to complete it.
What Is an IR5 Visa?
The Immediate Relative (IR) family-based visas are a unique visa category available for family members of U.S. citizens. The IR5 visa is designated to provide foreign-born parents of U.S citizens a pathway to becoming lawful permanent residents. In addition to living here, this parent visa can enable the beneficiary to work legally in the United States without an employment authorization document (EAD).
Bringing parents to the United States can offer greater family unity, safety, work opportunities, and oftentimes, an overall better standard of living for everyone in the family. If you are a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years old, and both you and your parents are eligible and admissible, you may be able to bring them to come live with you! What follows is a detailed guide on the IR5 visa, also known as the parent green card.
How Long Does It Take To Get an IR5 Visa?
Typically, the entire process of applying for and receiving the IR5 visa takes up to a year. Like most U.S. visas, obtaining the IR5 visa is a process involving multiple steps, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) immigrant fees are involved. The exact time depends on the following:
- How quickly forms, like the I-130, are processed
- The operational speed of the U.S. embassy or consulate in your parent’s home country
- External factors that can unavoidably affect processing times
One external factor that has challenged many organizations in the past few years is the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent National Visa Center (NVC) backlog report, in July 2022, there were 409,645 eligible IR visa applications pending the scheduling of an interview. This is much higher than in 2019. That year, there were, on average, only 60,866 applicants pending the scheduling of an interview each month.
Though much of the wait time is out of your hands, one of the most exceptional benefits of the IR visa category is that it offers family members a way to immigrate to the United States with no caps or annual limits. This means that when you apply for an Immediate Relative family-based visa like the IR5, you do not have to wait for a visa to become available or for a priority date to become current. This shortens waiting times considerably in comparison to other visas that require applicants to sometimes wait up to years for a visa to become available.
How Do You Apply for an IR5 Visa?
There are two major stages to obtaining an IR5 visa. First, both the parent and U.S. citizen child must determine if they both meet all the eligibility requirements. If so, the U.S. citizen (the sponsor) can begin the process by petitioning USCIS. The sponsor files Form I-130, Petition for an Alien Relative, and then Form I-864, Affidavit of Support for the parent (the beneficiary).
Only after the USCIS has approved the petition can the parent then complete the second stage: applying for a green card. Below we break down each stage and its respective steps in greater detail.
Step 1: Confirm Eligibility Requirements for an IR5 Visa
The first step in the IR5 application process is to determine whether the U.S. citizen and the parent they want to sponsor are both eligible. In order for the U.S. citizen sponsor to be eligible to petition for a parent, they must:
- Be 21 years of age or older;
- Have enough savings and financial security to prove that they can support the parent until the parent can start working;
- Live in the United States and have a U.S. address; and
- Be able to prove the relationship between the sponsor and parent with a copy of their birth certificate.
The beneficiary’s eligibility depends on whether they are applying for their green card from outside the U.S. or from within. If they are applying for their green card from outside the U.S., then they must submit proof that they are the sponsor's parent and fill out Form DS-260, the immigrant visa application (more on this in Step 3).
If the beneficiary is applying from within the U.S., they will use the adjustment of status process instead. Read our complete guide to the adjustment of status process to learn more.
Step 2: Establish a Parent-Child Relationship
Once the eligibility of the sponsor and the beneficiary has been established, the next step is to establish the parent-child relationship. For family-based visas, the sponsor should file Form I-130 with the USCIS. Along with the I-130, the sponsor needs to submit a range of supporting documents to prove that they are a U.S. citizen, are at least 21 years of age, and that the relationship with their parent is legitimate.
Generally, for the I-130, the sponsor will have to send the following documents in addition to the completed form:
- Filing fees
- Two identical, passport-sized photos each of the sponsor/petitioner and beneficiary
- Copy of sponsor’s naturalization certificate or birth certificate
- Sponsor’s U.S. passport
- Proof of any name changes
To learn more about the specific application requirements for the I-130, check out ImmigrationHelp.org’s in-depth article: “All About the USCIS Form I-130 Petition.”
Once the I-130 is approved, if the beneficiary is outside of the United States, the USCIS will send the application to their country’s local U.S. embassy or consulate for consular processing.
Step 3: Complete Forms DS-260 and DS-261
Once the I-130 has been approved, the immigrant petition will be forwarded from the USCIS to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will first send a confirmation or receipt number. Then, in its next communication, it will send the immigrant visa number. Once the beneficiary has received this immigrant visa number, they will need to file the DS-261 on the U.S. State Department’s Consular Electronic Application Center website. Usually, this takes about 2-3 weeks. Once the DS-261 is processed, they must pay a $445 filing fee online.
Once the DS-261 is filed and the fees are paid, the beneficiary will need to file Form DS-260, the green card application for the consular filing process. The form and proof are then sent to the National Visa Center (NVC), which processes the application. The NVC may request additional information from the beneficiary to further ensure the relationship is legitimate. After the application is processed, it is sent back to their local U.S. embassy.
For questions regarding Form DS-260, the USCIS website has helpful resources and FAQ pages.
Step 4: Complete the Medical Examination
The next step in the process is the medical examination. The medical examination is an essential step to receiving a green card, and it must be conducted by a government-authorized doctor. During the exam, the parent beneficiary will be tested for various illnesses and diseases and have a fully comprehensive mental and physical exam. The doctor will need to review their medical history, including immunization and vaccine records, and they will also be screened for any drug and alcohol abuse.
Depending on the government-authorized doctor, this exam can range in price from $100-$400, so it’s worth shopping around!
In preparation for the medical examination the beneficiary should bring:
- The green card interview letter from the NVC
- Vaccination records
- A copy of their medical history
- A letter from their regular doctor stating treatment plans for any of their health problems
- A government-issued photo ID
- Payment for the medical exam fee
- If applicable, a health insurance card
It’s important to note that after the medical examination, the doctor will give them a sealed envelope containing the medical records. You must submit this to the USCIS, unopened. If it is unsealed or tampered with, the USCIS will not accept it.
Step 5: Provide Biometric Data
After the medical examination, the beneficiary will need to schedule a biometrics appointment. During the biometrics appointment, they will have their photo and fingerprints taken. If they are applying from outside of the United States, this appointment will be conducted at the U.S. consulate or embassy processing their application.
The biometrics appointment is how the USCIS is able to confirm their identity, check their eligibility, and ensure that immigration benefits are given to the correct person. It’s also how the U.S. government checks their background for any past criminal or immigration violations that are on file with the FBI.
The appointment is straightforward. The beneficiary should arrive a bit early but be prepared to wait. They will have their photo and fingerprints taken and then sign some papers.
For the appointment, be sure to have the following documents:
- ASC biometric appointment notice itself (Form I-797C, Notice of Action)
- Government-issued photo IDs, like a driver's license or passport
- Any other receipt notices from USCIS
- Any documents that USCIS noted in the appointment letter to bring
Step 6: Attend the Green Card Interview
The green card interview is the final step before receiving a green card. The visa interview typically happens 7 to 15 months after the initial filing. It will be conducted by a USCIS officer. During the green card interview, the applicant must verify that all the information on their application is accurate and valid. There are several required documents to bring to the interview, such as a valid birth certificate.
While some individuals receive an interview waiver due to their spouse’s military records and service, others may decide to bring an immigration lawyer with them to help clarify any past immigration offenses their records may hold. Depending on your specific situation, prepare accordingly!
What Happens After the Interview?
If the interview goes well, the parent will receive the IR5 visa and be able to travel to the U.S. Once in the U.S. they can await their green card to be mailed to them.
How Long Does an IR5 Visa Last?
Once the parent beneficiary has received the IR5 visa, you may be wondering how long it will last. The real question to answer is how long the green card lasts. In most cases, green cards that parents receive last for 10 years. However, you are able to renew a green card as many times as needed. Alternatively, the parent can apply for citizenship through naturalization.
Typically, if renewing a green card, you should try to renew it at least six months prior to when it expires. If you lose your green card, or it is stolen, you can replace it by filing a renewal with the United States Customs and Immigration Services. If you are a green card holder and you decide you want to apply for citizenship through naturalization, there are many resources available to help you prepare for this process.
Understanding and applying for the IR5 can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your IR5 visa case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!