Family Immigration Lawyer
If you have a close family member who is a U.S. Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident, our family immigration lawyers can help you determine whether you qualify for a green card through family sponsorship. Sponsorship requires the citizen or permanent resident to provide proof of the relationship, his or her status as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or a citizen of the United States as well as several additional factors. Your status as a citizen or a LPR and your relationship to the family member will determine your family member’s eligibility for an immigrant visa. A family immigration lawyer can help you compile a list of documentation needed to prove your residency and relationship.
Annual visa limitations do not apply to Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas. This means that certain relatives will be granted an immigrant visa regardless of the number of such visas already granted in the given year. Such relatives include:
- Spouse of a U.S. Citizen
- Unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen
- Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen
- Orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen
- Parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old
However, annual limitations apply to certain other relatives. Under Family Preference Immigrant Visas, visas for specific, more distant relatives of a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) come with numerical limitations on family preference immigrants. Your family immigration lawyer will help you determine which Family Preference Immigrant Visa applies to your immigration case. The family preference categories include:
- Family First Preference: Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (over 21), and their minor children, if any.
- Family Second Preference: Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs. At least 77 percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters.
- Family Third Preference: Married sons and daughters (over 21) of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and children.
- Family Fourth Preference: 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.
Please note that grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, grandchildren and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration. However, step-parents can sponsor their step-children if certain conditions are met. If you fall into this category, you should speak with a family immigration attorney to discuss your options.
You can petition to bring immediate family members to the United States if you are a U.S. citizen.
A U.S. citizen of any age can sponsor the following relatives:
- Husband or wife (must be a “valid and subsisting marriage”)
- Unmarried son or daughter of any age
- Married son or daughter of any age
- A U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old can sponsor parents
- A U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old can sponsor siblings parents
U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders) who want to sponsor a family member must prove that they can support the relative by filing out an Affidavit of Support. If the U.S. citizen cannot support his or her relative, the U.S. citizen may be able to find a sponsor who would agree to partially sponsor the relative. Family immigration lawyers can help you file an Affidavit of Support or find a sponsor to partially sponsor your relative.
USCIS limits the number of family-based immigrants in certain categories each year. Relatives in these “preference categories” must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once their petition is approved, and the waiting period may sometimes be several years. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including parents, spouses, and children under the age of 21, do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once their petition is approved.
Sponsorship by Lawful Permanent Residents
While a Lawful Permanent Resident has fewer options for sponsorship than a U.S. citizen, he or she may sponsor the following relatives:
- Husband or wife (with a “valid and subsisting marriage”)
- Unmarried son or daughter of any age
Lawful Permanent Residents are able to bring the above-listed relatives to the United States, but only after an extensive multi-year delay, during which time the family is separated. The foreign spouse of a green card holder must wait for approval of an immigrant visa from the State Department before entering the United States. Due to numerical limitation on the number of these visas, the current wait time for approval is four to five years for all non-retrogressed countries (including Western Europe), and many more for the retrogressed countries. In the interim, the spouse cannot be legally present in the United States, unless he or she secures a nonimmigrant visa for himself/herself using some other means. However, securing such a visa is sometimes difficult. This is because, in many cases, the spouse has to overcome presumed immigrant intent to qualify for a non-immigrant, a position at odds with her or his marriage to a U.S. permanent resident. Working with a family immigration lawyer may help alleviate some of the difficulties. However, there can still be a long wait and the immigration intent issues cause many Lawful Permanent Residents to wait to become U.S. citizens (usually five years), and only then sponsor their spouses and children, because the process is much faster once the Lawful Permanent Resident becomes a U.S. citizen.
Preference Categories and Numerical Limitations
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including spouses, children under 21 and parents, are not subject to numerical limitations and do not have to wait for visa availability. Others are subject to annual visa limits and receive priority based on a preference system. As the number of immigrant visas available to these categories is subject to a numeric annual limit, they have been separated into preferences. As such, the higher the preference category, the shorter the wait for an available visa. Contacting a family immigration lawyer can help you determine which preference can work best for you. The order of preferences is as follows:
- Family First Preference includes adult, unmarried children of U.S. citizens
- Family Second Preference includes spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents
- Family Third Preference includes married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children
- Family Fourth Preference includes brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children, provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years old.
Whenever there are more qualified applicants for a category than there are available numbers, the category will be considered oversubscribed, and immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the numerical limit for the category is reached. The filing date of a petition becomes the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached.
In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is reached. To file a timely petition, it is recommended to get help from a family immigration attorney. The immediate family members of immigrants qualifying under each of these four preference categories are also permitted to concurrently immigrate.
If the relative’s case is not current, NVC cannot expedite immigrant visa processing, even in the cases of family emergency. Immigrant visa processing is governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended, which controls visa categories, priority dates, and the availability of visa numbers. Immigrant visa numbers are made available strictly in the order of priority dates. There is no provision within the law that would allow NVC to waive numerical limitation in any individual case.
While the cases in the preference categories take a long time, there is no provision for relatives to live in the United States while the visa petition is pending. These relatives may be able to get the dual intent non-immigrant visa such as H or L visa, if they independently qualify. However, it would be much harder to get the visitor visa, because it would be difficult to prove lack of intent to immigrate when the immigration petition is pending.
Because family-sponsored green cards are commonly sought, some preference categories have substantial backlogs. The wait for available visas can be several years. Please contact a family immigration lawyer to determine your eligibility and preference category for a family sponsored green card.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens as defined above, including spouses, children and parents, already present in the United States without a Lawful Permanent Resident or citizen status may apply for Adjustment of Status through the U.S. citizen relative. The application process is similar to sponsoring a relative for a green card when that relative lives outside of the United States, so consulting with a family immigration lawyer is important to ensure the petition is filed properly.
The Adjustment of Status process consists of several steps, including:
- Step One: Application by the U.S. citizen for his or her relative already present in the United States.
- Step Two: Application by the relative of the U.S. citizen. This application consists of several forms, including a medical examination, affidavit of support, and other forms.
- Step Three: Fingerprinting of the relative of the U.S. citizen before the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducts background check.
- Step Four: Investigation by the FBI.
- Step Five: Interview of the relative at a local USCIS office.
- Step Six: Decision by the USCIS.
Applicants are legally permitted to stay in the United States while the petition is being processed and an immigrant number is being obtained. Applicants may legally work and obtain employment authorization while the application is pending. In certain situations it is possible to apply for a green card together with the application for Adjustment of Status. A potential denial or negative outcome of the application may be appealed while the applicant remains in the United States, and a family immigration lawyer can help you file an appeal. Eligible applicants for “Adjustment of Status” do not have to travel abroad to obtain the immigrant visa.
It is also possible to leave the United States and work abroad while the Adjustment of Status application is being processed. However, both documents must be applied for and approved. In addition to the initial application and approval of both documents, they must be renewed annually. An experienced family immigration attorney will help you file the documents and renew them annually.
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