Are you a lawful permanent resident of the United States with a family in another country? It’s possible to petition for your spouse or children to join you in the U.S.

The U.S. government issues different types of visas depending on the applicants, their reasons for coming to the U.S. and their relationships with U.S. citizens or residents.

To fly your spouse or family to the U.S., they’ll need a family second preference visa (F2), specifically F2a. Read on to learn more about the F2a visa.

What is the F2a visa?

The F2a visa is a type of family preference visa that allows U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPR) to petition on behalf of their spouse or children.

An F2a visa holder may:

  • be authorized to live and work in the U.S. without having to secure an employment authorization document from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)
  • apply for a Social Security number and use that to get a job
  • enroll in a school or a university to further their education

What are family preference visas?

Family preference visas are available to people with family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. There are different kinds of family preference visas, depending on your relationship with the U.S. citizen.

  • F1 or family first preference visa: Unmarried children of U.S. citizens and their children
  • F2 or family second preference visa: Spouses, minor children and unmarried children of lawful U.S. permanent residents
  • F3 family third preference visa: Married children of U.S. citizens and their children
  • F4 or family fourth preference visa: Siblings of U.S. citizens as well as their spouses and unmarried children 

F2 visas are further divided into two subcategories:

  1. F2a visas are available to spouses and minor children of U.S. lawful permanent residents
  2. F2b visas are available for unmarried children of lawful permanent residents who are older than 21 years old

Who can apply for an F2a visa?

Foreign nationals can’t apply for an F2a visa directly. Instead, the permanent resident must file a petition on behalf of their spouse or children to come to the U.S.

To petition on behalf of your spouse or children, you must:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • reside in the U.S. and have a permanent registered address in the country

Your spouse or children must be able to provide all the necessary documents and must not be found ineligible.

There are multiple grounds of inadmissibility under U.S. immigration law. The major categories of inadmissibility include the following:

  • Health and medical reasons
  • Criminal convictions
  • National security issues
  • Likelihood to become a public charge
  • Fraud or misrepresentation
  • Prior removals or unlawful presence
  • Miscellaneous grounds

What are the required documents for the F2a visa application?

  1. Valid passport
  2. Affidavit of support from the petitioner
  3. F4 visa application
  4. Two U.S. passport-approved photographs
  5. Completed medical examination and vaccination forms
  6. Civil documents
  1. Birth certificate or adoption certificate
  2. Any court records
  3. Certified copy of marriage certificate
  4. Military records, if any
  5. A photocopy of the biographic information page in their passport
  6. Police certificates for every country that they have lived in

The National Visa Center will inform you about any required vaccinations or medical records. A licensed doctor must complete the medical examination and give them the required vaccines. A list of necessary vaccinations is available on the U.S. Department of State's website.

Is there an application cap for F2a visas?

There are only 114,200 F2 visas available each year due to a cap. Seventy-seven percent of these visas are designated for F2a visas. The remaining 23% are for F2b visas.

The excess number of petitions are rolled over to subsequent years in chronological order until their priority dates become current. The U.S. Department of State publishes the cut-off dates for priority dates each month in the visa bulletin.

What is the application process for an F2a visa?

Family preference applications first require the permanent resident to file the petition. Upon approval, their family members may file for a visa in their home country’s U.S. consulate or embassy.

Step 1: Filing the petition

The LPR begins the application process by filing Form I-130 and paying the appropriate fee with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). You may also pay with a credit card by using Form G-1450.

Step 2: The petition is processed

Upon submission, the petition is processed, which can take up to several months. The USCIS then informs the petitioner whether or not their petition was approved.

If denied, you will be notified about the reason why the petition was rejected. If approved, the petition gets sent to the National Visa Center (NVC).

Step 3: Getting a case number

The NVC will send the approval documents to you, your spouse and your children. The documents include the petition’s case number, instructions about the next steps, fees and payment instructions. 

After the NVC finishes processing the petition and sends its approval, your spouse and children may apply for an F2a visa.

Step 4: Fee payment and document submission

Your spouse and children need to pay the application fees at their home country’s U.S. consulate or embassy. Once payment is complete, they will submit the following:

  • Affidavit of support. The affidavit of support is filed on Form I-864. The affidavit of support is a contract stating that you agree to use your financial resources to sponsor your spouse and children after they arrive in the U.S.
  • The application forms. Your spouse and children submit Forms DS-260 and DS-261.
  • The requested civil documents. Civil documents include a birth certificate or adoption certificate; any court records; certified copy of marriage certificate; military records, if any; a photocopy of the biographic information page in their passport; police certificates for every country lived in.

Form DS-260 is submitted online. To access the form, your spouse and children need to enter their NVC-assigned case number to link their application to the approved petition. They will also need to file Form DS-261 (unless they have an attorney).

Note that the affidavit of support states that you will be sponsoring your spouse and children until they have earned 40 quarters of work in the U.S. or have become a U.S. citizen. Typically, this takes ten years.

Step 5: Visa interview

Your spouse and children need to complete a visa interview to get their F2a visas at the U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country.

Once the NVC is satisfied with the submitted documents, it will schedule an interview for your spouse and children. At the interview, they will be asked questions about their background.

Step 6: Visa approval

The consular or embassy official will decide whether or not your spouse and children receive F4 visas.

Once approved, the consular or embassy official will stamp their passports. They will also receive a sealed packet of documents that must not be opened. Only the immigration officer in the U.S. is allowed to open this packet as they enter the country.

What happens when an F2a visa application is denied?

If a visa applicant is denied based on a ground of inadmissibility, it may be possible to secure a waiver of inadmissibility. Grounds of inadmissibility are:

  • Health and medical reasons
  • Criminal convictions
  • National security issues
  • Likelihood to become a public charge
  • Fraud or misrepresentation
  • Prior removals or unlawful presence
  • Miscellaneous grounds

Whether or not someone is eligible for a waiver will depend on the reason for their denial. Consult a U.S. immigration attorney for further legal advice.

How much are the F2a visa application fees?

Currently, the fee for a long term permanent resident to submit a Form I-130 on behalf of their spouse or children is $535.

Once the petition is approved, the application fee for a family preference visa is $325. This fee is paid per application.

You may expect to incur other expenses from medical examinations to vaccinations, passports, photocopying, translation services and other services during the application process.

How long is the F2a visa application process?

The processing time for an F2a visa petition and application can take a long time due to the annual cap on the number of visas issued.

The processing time for an F2a visa petition and application can range from 1 - 10 years to due to the annual cap on the number of visas issued.

What happens when a permanent resident petitioner becomes a naturalized citizen?

In some cases, a long term permanent resident petitioning on behalf of their spouse and children might become a naturalized U.S. citizen during the process.

If this occurs in your case, your family should contact USCIS and the embassy in their country. They are now eligible for an immediate relative visa, which doesn’t have a cap on the number of applications accepted each year. This may accelerate the processing time for your visa.

What else should I prepare for the F2a visa application process?

While your spouse waits to hear back about their visa application, they can prepare for their new life in the U.S. For example, did you know that their credit history doesn’t automatically transfer to the states after immigration? That means that U.S. companies and financial institutions will have no record of the F2a visa applicant’s previous financial history. In turn, that can make it very difficult to secure loans, secure an apartment lease, mobile phone companies, and other service providers.  

Nova Credit's Credit Passport® technology helps people bring their credit history with them when they move to the U.S. While this international credit history won’t be transferred to national bureau databases, Nova Credit partners with companies to include information from the Credit Passport® in applications to make it easier for newcomers to get approved for credit cards, loans and other products. Once you establish a U.S. credit account using the credit you’ve earned, you can start building a local credit history. Nova Credit currently connects to international credit bureaus in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korea and the UK.

The takeaway

For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.