US citizens and legal permanent residents can sponsor their family members for a green card. Particularly, a US citizen can sponsor his spouse, children, parents and siblings, while a legal permanent resident can sponsor his spouse and unmarried children. The petitioner willing to sponsor his relative and the beneficiary family member shall go through certain procedure to obtain green card for the family member.
Filing the Petition for Alien Relative with USCIS
The initial step in the process of sponsoring a family member for a green card is filing the Petition for Alien Relative with USCIS. The USCIS Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, shall be used for initiating the sponsorship process. The current version of the Form I-130 can be found on the USCIS website (www.uscis.gov/forms).
The petition contains information about the petitioner, the beneficiary family member, and their relationship. The petitioner shall file the petition with all the documents showing that the family member qualifies for the sponsorship. The list of supporting documents is different based on the family relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary. However, the main purpose of the supporting documents is to show that the petitioner is a US citizen or a legal permanent resident, and that the required family relationship exists between the petitioner and the beneficiary.
The petition is filed in the appropriate USCIS office based on the address of the petitioner. The petition is considered properly filed if it is signed by the petitioner, and the filing fee is paid. The current filing fee for the Form I-130 is $535 which shall be paid simultaneously with filing the petition for family member unless the petitioner qualifies for a fee waiver.
Obtaining the Green Card after the Approval of the Petition for Alien Relative
The approval of the petition for family member does not mean that the beneficiary family member will automatically get his green card. After the approval of the petition the family member has to apply to the consulate in his home country to obtain immigrant visa to enter the US as a legal permanent resident or has to submit an application to adjust his status if he is already in the US. However, not in all the cases the family member can apply to the consulate or file the application to adjust his status immediately after the approval of the petition.
Immigrant Visa is Immediately Available to The Spouse, Parents and Unmarried Children Under 21 of US citizens
The approval of a US citizen’s petition for his spouse, parents or unmarried children under 21, so called immediate relatives, makes the immigrant visa immediately available for the beneficiary family member. This means that right after the approval of the petition immediate relatives can apply to the consulate in their home country and obtain an immigrant visa to enter the US as permanent residents.
If beneficiary family members falling under the immediate relative category are already in the US they can obtain their permanent resident status by filing an application to adjust status with USCIS. The application to adjust status can be filed simultaneously with the petition for alien relative or right after the approval of the petition. Generally, immediate relatives planning to adjust their status in the US file their application together with their family member’s petition for alien relative.
However, it should be noted that the family member planning to adjust his status should qualify for the adjustment of status. There are certain circumstances that might bar a person’s eligibility to adjust his status in the US. One of the most common bars to adjustment of status is illegal entry to the US. On the other side, overstaying a visa does not bar an immediate relative’s eligibility to adjust his status.
Family Members Falling Under One of The Preference Categories Shall Wait Until Their Immigrant Visa Becomes Available
The approval of the petition for alien relative does not make the immigrant visa immediately available for family members of US citizens who do not fall under the immediate relative category or for family members of legal permanent residents. The waiting time for these family members depend on the family preference category under which they fall and their country of citizenship.
The Immigration and Nationality Act divides family members of US citizens and legal permanent resident into four preference categories:
1) First Preference – unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens who are 21 and older;
2) Second Preference – spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents;
3) Third Preference – married sons and daughters of US citizens;
4) Fourth Preference – brothers and sisters of US citizens.
Specific limit is set on the number of visas that can be issued in each preference category. US consulates abroad cannot issue more visas than the number allocated to the specific preference category. The number of petitions for family members considerably exceeds the number of visas allocated for the preference categories. Therefore, a substantial backlog has been created, and the family members of US citizens and permanent resident have to wait for long years until their visa becomes available. It should also be noted that there is a per country limit on issuance of visas each year as a result of which citizens of certain countries have to wait much longer than others.
US Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin which specifies the waiting times for all preference categories for all the countries. The visa bulletin states how long the family member will have to wait after the petitioner properly files the petition for alien relative, so called priority date. For example, pursuant to the last visa bulletin, unmarried sons and daughters of US citizen who are 21 and older and who are citizens of Mexico shall wait for 21 year until their visa becomes available, citizens of Philippines falling under the same category will have to wait for 11 years, while citizens of all other countries will have to wait for 6 years. The link to the most recent visa bulletin can be found here
Once the visa becomes available, the family member can apply to the consulate in his home country to obtain an immigrant visa to enter the US or to apply to adjust his status if he is in the US and qualifies for adjustment of status.
For certain family members of US citizens falling under the category of immediate relatives it does not take long to immigrate to the US because their immigrant visa becomes immediately available after the approval of the petition for alien relative. However, family members who fall under one of the preference categories discussed above have to wait for years until their immigrant visa becomes available.
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