In the United States, a legal immigrant can refer to a visa holder or a permanent resident. Visa holders are usually temporary visitors, such as international students (F visa) or tourists (B visa). Although people with visas enter the U.S. legally, they actually are considered non-immigrants because their visits are intended to be short term. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) are foreign citizens who permanently reside in the United States. LPRs can renew their status every ten years or apply for U.S. citizenship, usually after five years.
Entry Via Form I-130
To enter the U.S. as a legal immigrant based on a family petition (not employer sponsored), then you must first file a Form I-130. The I-130 establishes the relationship between the petitioner and applicant. U.S. citizens can petition for their spouse, children, parents and siblings, whereas LPRs can petition only for their spouse and children. The I-130 filing fee for all applicants is $535 in 2019. Additional costs might include translation fees for supplementary documents like a birth or marriage certificate in a foreign language.
Packet Documents and Costs
After receiving an approved I-130, immediate relatives petitions shortly will receive a packet in the mail requesting several forms, including an immigrant visa fee bill, an affidavit of support request and DS-230 Part 1 and 2. Immediate relatives are spouses, parents and children under 21 years old of U.S. citizens. All other relatives must wait until their priority date is current before their petition is able to continue, which can take from two to fifteen years depending on the applicant's country of origin and type of relationship (LPR spouse will wait less time than U.S. citizen sibling).
Other forms might not be included in the packet but must be submitted to receive a final interview. For instance, an affidavit of support Form I-864 or exemption, (4 original) Form G-325, along with proof of the petitioner's status, relationship between applicant and petitioner and copy applicant's valid passport.
There are various costs associated with each required documents and these are updated regularly. The U.S. State Department publishes a current visa bulletin each month and you can review the website for a breakdown of the current fees.
Interview and Biomedical Testing
Upon successfully submitting the packet, applicants will be granted interviews at a U.S. consulate or embassy. A few days prior to the interview, applicants must complete a medical exam by a USCIS approved physician (information usually included along with interview date). The cost of the medical exam depends on the doctor and can range from $100 to over $400, however, required vaccinations to enter the U.S. easily can add $500 to the exam cost.
In 2019, applicants also will pay $85 for a biometrics (fingerprinting) fee before they have their interview. If the interview is successful, then applicants can enter the U.S. legally. The approval usually is valid for one year, meaning applicants must enter within a year or lose their status.
Things to Consider
Petitioners can submit applications on their own or through their attorney. Attorney fees can range from under $1,000 to over $3,000. Consult with the American Immigration Lawyers Association to find a local immigration attorney. Avoid using the services of notarios or people who falsely claim that they have experience. Errors on an immigration petition can create significant delays and even denials.
If you file on your own, please make copies of everything that you send. Always remember to send documents via certified mail (USPS, UPS, FedEx) to ensure that the paperwork and payments were delivered.
The cost of entering the U.S. as a LPR depends on several factors, though the entire process will exceed $1,500.