Who is the Principal Immigrant? Understanding Key Aspects of U.S. Immigration

Immigration is a complex process that often involves families or groups of people trying to enter the United States.

At the heart of these groups is the principal immigrant, a key person essential for understanding how immigration applications work and how they affect others who come with them.

This article explores the role and duties of the principal immigrant, how they affect their accompanying family members, and what needs to be considered in the immigration process.

Who is the Principal Immigrant?
Who is the Principal Immigrant? | photo courtesy | Immigrant guide


1. Definition of a Principal Immigrant

The principal immigrant, often referred to as the primary applicant, is the individual who first applies for a visa or immigration benefit.

This person is typically the main reason for the application, such as employment or familial ties, and their status largely determines the eligibility of dependents or accompanying family members to apply for derivative visas.

Role in Family-Based Immigration

In family-based immigration scenarios, the principal immigrant is usually the family member who first gains lawful permanent resident status or citizenship in the U.S.

They can then sponsor certain family members for immigration.

Role in Employment-Based Immigration

For employment-based immigration, the principal immigrant is the individual offered employment in the U.S., around whom a petition for a work visa or green card is built.

2. Eligibility and Criteria

The eligibility of the principal immigrant varies based on the type of visa or immigration benefit being sought. However, some common criteria apply:

Legal and Background Checks

The principal immigrant must pass all necessary legal and background checks to ensure they pose no security threat to the U.S.

Economic Stability

Especially where the principal immigrant is sponsoring relatives, they must demonstrate economic stability enough to support their dependents.

Compliance with Visa Specifications

The primary applicant must comply with the specific requirements of the visa category under which they are applying, whether it be employment-based, family-based, or another category.

3. Application Process

The application process for a principal immigrant involves several detailed steps, each requiring careful attention:

Form Submission

The principal immigrant must submit the relevant forms, which vary depending on the visa category.

For example, Form I-130 is used for family-based visas, while Form I-140 is used for employment-based visas.


Extensive documentation is required, including proof of relationship to accompanying family members, employment letters, financial statements, and more.

Interviews and Biometrics

The principal immigrant often undergoes an interview and biometric data collection to further verify their identity and eligibility.

4. Rights and Responsibilities

Once admitted to the U.S., the principal immigrant has certain rights and responsibilities:


They have the right to work, live, and study in the U.S. and may access certain social services and benefits, depending on their visa type.


They must adhere to U.S. laws, file taxes, and maintain their immigration status, among other obligations.


5. Impact on Accompanying Family Members

The status of the principal settler significantly impacts accompanying or following-to-join family members:

Derivative Status

Family members derive their eligibility from the status of the principal settler.

If the principal immigrant’s application fails, derivatives usually cannot immigrate based on the same petition.


Family members may need to adjust their status or apply for their visas depending on changes in the principal immigrant’s status.

6. Challenges and Considerations

The principalsettlers face various challenges and must consider several factors throughout the immigration process:

Legal Complexities

Navigating the complex U.S. immigration law requires understanding and often legal assistance.

Financial Burden

The financial responsibility, especially in family sponsorship cases, can be substantial.

Long-term Implications

Decisions made during the application process can have long-term implications for residency, citizenship opportunities, and family reunification.


The principal settler plays a vital role in U.S. immigration, laying the foundation for both their entry and that of their family members into the country.

Understanding the principal settler‘s identity, their duties, and how their immigration status affects the process is key to successfully managing the complexities of U.S. immigration law.

Whether seeking job opportunities or reuniting with family, the experiences of the principal settler.

are central to the broader story of immigration and the pursuit of the American dream.

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