When your family member in a foreign country wants to immigrate to the United States, they need to obtain a resident alien card. Although this sounds like something for little green men from mars, it is the authorization otherwise known as a “green card.”
Obtaining official authorization to reside in the United States requires taking specific steps, which include filing a family petition. If done correctly, your relative can receive approval.
As of January 2022, the U.S. has 12.9 million lawful permanent residents (LPRs). Of those, about 9.2 million are eligible to naturalize. Green card holders can apply for naturalization five years after obtaining permanent residency.
The process of becoming a lawful resident is lengthy. Submitting an application that is not complete or lacks proper documentation slows the process. We will explain why it is vital to use an immigration attorney when filing a family petition.
Family Petition Basics
U.S. citizens and Permanent Resident Aliens can file petitions for immediate family members to come into the U.S permanently. You must understand what family members you may sponsor and how your children’s age and marital status impact the application.
Under immigration law, a child is someone under 21 years of age who is not married. If they are over 21 or are married, you list them on the application as your son or daughter.
You can file Form I-130 Alien Relative Form at the same time as the I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status. This allows your relative to stay in the United States while their application is processing and shortens the wait time. They are also able to apply for a work permit at the same time they apply for residency and status adjustment.
You must file these documents separately if your son or daughter is over 21 or under 21 but married or you sponsor a sibling. You need to wait for approval on I-130 before filing the I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status and the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization.
USCIS Form I-130
The first step in obtaining a family-based green card is to file a Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130. This petition validates the family relationship between U.S. citizens and those seeking permanent residency.
If you have a marriage visa, the I-130 petition proves that you have a valid marriage. This includes showing your marriage certificate and validation of authentic marriage. This may include providing photos of the two of you, copies of joint bank account statements, joint insurance paperwork, and more.
The government wants to confirm the marriage is not fraudulent. Marriage fraud is outlined in §1545(a) of the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments Act of 1986. Anyone who knowingly gets married to evade immigration laws may be subject to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
A U.S. citizen must file the I-130 petition for their spouse, children, parents, or siblings. They are the sponsor or petitioner. The person seeking a green card is the beneficiary.
Current green card holders may sponsor their unmarried children and spouse. There are some exclusions for filing, even if you have a family relationship.
You cannot sponsor the following people using the Petition for Alien Relative form:
- Adoptive parent or child if adoption is after the child’s 16th birthday
- Aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, niece, parent-in-law
- Biological parent if you became a green card holder or U.S. citizen through adoption
- Grandparent, grandchild
- A spouse who was not physically present at the wedding ceremony
- Spouse, if you married while they were part of an immigration court proceeding
- Spouse if you became a green card holder via prior marriage to a green card holder or U.S. citizen*
- Stepparent or stepchild if the marriage resulting in the relationship takes place after the child’s 18th birthday
*This rule does not apply if you are now naturalized or are a green card holder for a minimum of five years.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prohibits sponsorship of anyone who marries for immigration purposes.
Contact your immigration lawyer with any questions about sponsorship of a family member.
When filing your I-130 form, you must prove a valid family relationship with the person who sponsors you.
Necessary documents include:
- Proof that marriage is not fraudulent.
- Evidence of the green card seeker’s nationality.
- Verification of any name changes of the sponsor and person seeking permanent residency
You also need to verify your sponser is a green card holder or U.S. citizen. This may require a copy of the citizen’s birth certificate.
Time Frame After Filing
The time it takes your I-130 form to process will depend on the USCIS caseload, the family relationship, and meeting all filing requirements.
Confirmation of your petition arrives 2-3 weeks after filing. If the paperwork does not meet the requirements, you will receive a Notice of Action for rejecting your petition or requesting additional evidence. Receiving either of these notices delays the process.
After confirming receipt, USCIS begins reviewing your petition. Petitions by immediate relativesspouse, parents, unmarried children under age 21of a U.S. citizen receive priority. There is no limit on the number of immediate relative immigrant visas a person may request, so the review begins faster.
Immediate relatives usually receive approval 5-9 months after filing. If you also file form I-485 to adjust your status, the USCIS will transfer your case to the National Visa Center. The U.S. consular office in your home country will conduct the visa interview.
The wait time is longer if you fall within the family preference category. There is a yearly limit on the number of family preference green cards awarded.
Awarding approval happens in the same order as the petition filing date. The time ranges average between 5-14 years, depending on your category.
Denial of Your Family Petition
If your application receives a denial, there is an appeal process. Within 30 days of the denial mailing date you must file your appeal with the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO).
To ensure all appeal documentation is appropriately prepared and filing is timely, contact an immigration attorney immediately upon receipt.
Are Immigration Attorneys Worth Their Cost?
When you hire an immigration attorney, you prevent mistakes that delay approval. You may think filing your petition online is easy and less expensive. This comes with the risk of denial and having to appeal, increasing your cost and wait time.
Immigration lawyers are up-to-date on immigration law. They are familiar with filing petitions and know what the USCIS is looking for answers to questions and documentation.
Having a lawyer helps you navigate your green card application. The attorney can also help you with the following:
- Adjustment of status application
- Applying for a work permit
- Application for citizenship (naturalization)
- Other immigration needs
Legal representation puts you in the best position possible for approval of your application. Your immigration attorney can help you avoid pitfalls that could lead to deportation, exclusion from the U.S., or a bar to re-entry.
Family Petition Assistance
If you have a loved one you want to bring into the United States, make sure your family petition meets all the requirements to secure approval.