Can I sponsor my family member for a U.S. Green Card?
Two groups of family based immigrant visa categories, including immediate relatives and family preference categories, are provided under the regulations of United States immigration law, specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
A U.S. citizen and in certain petitions, a U.S. permanent resident, can petition foreign immediate family members for U.S. permanent resident green cards. This article will discuss the various petitions available as well as the process for an alien to obtain a Green Card through a U.S. citizen family member.
What is an immediate relative and how can I petition for an immigrant visa for a family member?
These visa types are based on a close family relationship with a United States (U.S.) citizen described as an Immediate Relative (IR). The number of immigrants in these categories is not limited each fiscal year and can be processed immediately. There is no wait time for the foreign relative to obtain the visa, other than waiting for the processing of the application, which takes less than 1 year, generally. Immediate relative visa types include:
- IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. Citizen
- IR-2: Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a U.S. Citizen
- IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. Citizen
- IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
- IR-5: Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old
- If your fiance/fiancee is living abroad and is waiting to enter the United States for the purpose of marriage to a U.S. Citizen, you can apply for a K-1 visa. For more information, please read here.
- If your spouse is living abroad, you can apply for a K-3 visa. For more information, please click here.
Immigration law is a confusing and convoluted area of law. Immigration to the United States can change your life and the lives of your loved ones. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your family immigration options, please feel free to contact our experienced Los Angeles immigration and visa attorneys. We can help you achieve your immigration goals starting today!
Family Preference Immigrant Visas (Limited Annual Number)
These visa types are for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). There are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants, shown at the end of each category. The family preference categories are;
- First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. (23,400)
- Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs. At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters. (114,200)
- Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children. (23,400)
- Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000 annual visas, read our section here)
Note: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.
The First Step toward an Immigrant Visa: Filing a Petition
As the first step, a sponsoring relative (almost always the petitioner for immigrant visa as well) must file a Petition for Alien Relative with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In certain circumstances, a U.S. citizen living abroad can file a petition for an immediate relative category at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate or with USCIS overseas, when the U.S. citizen petitioner has been a resident there continuously for the preceding 6 months and has permission to reside in the country where the immigrant visa petition is filed. For further details review the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you would apply.
What is the minimum age a U.S. citizen has to be in order to sponsor a relative for immigration purposes?
U.S. citizen sponsors must be age 21 or older to file petitions for siblings or parents under United States Immigration Law. There is no minimum age for a sponsor to file petitions for all other categories of family based immigrant visas. However, you must be 18 years of age and have a residence (domicile) in the United States before you can sign the Affidavit of Support. This form is required for an immigrant visa for spouses and other relatives of U.S. sponsors, and the sponsor must have residence in the United States to qualify under USCIS requirements.
Do I have to reside in the U.S. in order to sponsor my relative to immigrate here?
Yes. As the U.S. sponsor, you must maintain your principal residence (also called domicile) in the United States, with the intention to maintain that residence for the next few years. Maintaining a domicile in the U.S. is required for a U.S. sponsor to file the Affidavit of Support, with few exceptions.
I was a Green Card holder/LPR when I petitioned for my relative. I am now a U.S. citizen. How does this affect my petition for my alien relative?
If you filed a petition for your spouse and/or minor children when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR), and you are now a U.S. citizen, you must upgrade the petition from family second preference (F2) to immediate relative (IR). The National Visa Center (NVC) will need proof of your U.S. citizenship.
Read our section on proving your U.S. citizenship here.
Can I petition my spouse and children for U.S. permanent residency?
If you upgrade a family second preference (F2) petition for your spouse and you did not file separate petitions for your minor children when you were a LPR, you must do so now. A child is not included in an immediate relative (IR) petition. (This is different from the family second preference (F2) petition, which includes minor children in their parent’s F2 petition.
Children born abroad after you became a U.S. citizen may qualify for U.S. citizenship. They should apply for U.S. passports. The consular officer will determine whether your child is a U.S. citizen and can have a passport. If the consular officer determines your child is not U.S. citizen, the child must apply for an immigrant visa if he/she wants to live in the U.S.
Please contact our Los Angeles immigration office for help on how to upgrade your family petition now that you are a U.S. citizen. We have successfully helped hundreds of clients obtain immigrant visas and green cards for family members and offer a free consultation.
How long will it take for my relative to get his or her Green Card?
After USCIS approves the immigrant visa petition, the National Visa Center (NVC) will assign a case number for the petition. When an applicant’s priority date meets the most recent qualifying date, the NVC will send the Choice of Address and Agent to the applicant, if an attorney or agent will be used. NVC will begin pre-processing the applicant’s case by contacting the applicant and petitioner with instructions for submitting the appropriate processing fees for the immigrant visa and affidavit of support. The National Visa Center will again contact the applicant and petitioner to request that the necessary immigrant visa documents be submitted to the NVC, including the Affidavit of Support, Immigrant Visa Applicant, civil documents and more after the appropriate processing fees are paid.
What documents are required to petition my relative for U.S. permanent resident status?
In general, the following documents are required:
- Passport(s) valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the U.S.
- Appropriate Affidavit of Support from the petitioner/sponsor
- Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, both Part I and Part II
- Two photographs. See the photograph requirements.
- Civil Documents for the applicant (and petitioner in IR-5 and F4 cases). Documents in foreign languages should be translated. See Applicant Documents for more specific information about documentation requirements. The consular officer may ask for more information. Take clear, legible photocopies of civil documents and translations, such as birth and marriage certificates, to the immigrant visa interview. Original documents and translations can then be returned to you.
- Completed Medical Examination Forms – These are provided by the panel physician after you have successfully completed your medical examination and vaccinations (see below).
Your application will need to be submitted when it is correctly completed and you have all of the supporting documentation and fees. If your application is incorrect, incomplete or contains the wrong fee it will be rejected and sent back to you.
Immigration matters are very time sensitive and this will cause you delays and possibly other severe consequences. For assistance in preparing your case and presenting your application, documents, and fees to the proper USCIS office, please call or email our experienced immigration attorneys.
Will there be an immigrant visa interview with an immigration officer?
Once the NVC determines the file is complete with all the required documents, they schedule the applicant’s interview appointment and send the petition and all documentation to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant will be interviewed for a visa. The applicant, petitioner, attorney and third-party agent, if applicable, will receive appointment emails, or letters (if no email address is available), containing the date and time of the applicant’s visa interview along with instructions for obtaining a medical examination.
Applicants should bring their valid passports, as well as any other documentation above not already provided to NVC, to their visa interviews. During the interview process, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken. Applicants will receive their original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.
How Long Does it Take to Receive the Visa Interview?
Many approved immigrant petitions take additional time because they are in numerically limited categories. The length of time varies from case to case according to its circumstances, and cannot be predicted for individual cases with any accuracy. Some cases are delayed because the applicants do not follow instructions carefully. Sometimes the petitioner cannot meet Affidavit of Support requirements. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a Consular Officer.
What if the Applicant is Ineligible for a Visa?
Certain conditions and activities may make you, the applicant, ineligible for a visa. The consular officer will inform you if you are ineligible for a visa, whether there is a waiver for the ineligibility and what the waiver procedure is. For help with any of your immigration needs, contact our U.S. immigration lawyers for a free consultation now.
I just received my immigrant visa, is there anything I should know?
If you are issued an immigrant visa, the consular officer will give you your passport containing the immigrant visa and a sealed packet containing the documents which you provided. It is important that you do not open the sealed packet. Only the DHS immigration official should open this packet when you enter the U.S. You are required to enter the U.S. before the expiration date printed on your visa. When traveling, the primary (or principal) applicant must enter the U.S. before or at the same time as family members holding visas.
What is the process to enter the United States after I have received my immigrant visa?
A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the U.S. port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. The DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the U.S. Travelers should review important information about admissions and entry requirements on the CBP website under Travel.
How can I apply for a Social Security Card?
The U.S. sponsor can help learn how to apply for a social security number card. To learn more about this process, visit the website for the Social Security Administration.
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