For most foreigners, one of the ways to immigrate into the U.S. is through sponsorship by a family member. Therefore, it is important for every petitioner or prospective immigrant to ensure that their paperwork is appropriately filled out and submitted. This will help reduce possible delays and confusion. The Orange County Immigration Attorney can assist you in navigating the family-based immigration petition process.
Getting a Relative to America as a Legal Permanent Resident
Both permanent residents and United States citizens with relatives living overseas can sponsor their relatives by filing family petitions to assist their loved ones in acquiring United States immigrant visas that could result in a legal permanent residence or green card. This is done to promote family unity under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The application process requires much thoroughness, and this is the reason many petitioners hire experienced immigration lawyers. The processing duration depends on factors such as the petitioner's immigration status, the beneficiary's whereabouts, family relationship, beneficiary personal circumstances, and country of origin.
Read on to understand critical aspects of the family petitions. It will help you plan for different requirements as well as maneuver around the timeline.
Eligible Family Members for Immigration
Potential immigrants of family petitions (sponsorship) are grouped into two classifications: immediate relatives and preference relative.
In a layman's language, immediate relative is a close family relation. They include a U.S. citizen's spouse, children below 21 years of age, and parents provided the citizen is above 21 years. An immediate relative has an immediate entitlement to apply for U.S. permanent residence as long as you agree to begin the process on their behalf.
Different from immediate relatives, family members in preference relative classification depend on the yearly allocation of visas. Since more individuals apply annually than the available visas, this results in waiting for a long time, especially in countries with both high numbers of applicants. The waiting period could be reasonably short, while other people could wait for decades. This is because the waiting period is based on the priority date (which is the date when a petitioner first filed a petition intending to sponsor an immigrant).
Family preference has the following categories:
- F1 (First preference)
These are your unmarried children, regardless of their age. For the F1 category, the beneficiary should not be married at the time of filing the petition and should remain so until they obtain permanent residency.
- F2 (Second Preference)
This classification includes your spouse (regardless of sexual orientation), unmarried children who are above 21 years, and minor children. Children who either widowed or divorcees are well-thought-out unmarried and, therefore, qualify under this category.
Children above twenty-one years of age fall into the 2B sub-category and could wait a bit longer than relatives in F2 in 2A sub-category.
- F3 (Third Preference)
These are your married children, your children's spouses, and grandchildren. If the beneficiary gets a peaceful marriage dissolution after waiting for a visa for many years, they qualify for a visa as a first preference.
- F4 (Fourth Preference)
This category includes your siblings, their spouses, and their minor children. Adoptive siblings and half-siblings fall in this classification.
A Step-by-step Guide on Filing a Family Petition
- Filing Form I-130
The immigration process begins with a petitioner filing Petition for Alien Relative. Also known as Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative is given out by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You can also download it for free on the USCIS official website.
A key question asked on a Petition for Alien Relative is where the immigrant will attend an immigrant visa interview. It can be at a U.S. embassy in your relative's home country or a United States consulate. If the beneficiary is abroad, they can choose a nearby consulate or embassy that processes visas. Usually, this information is accessible from a consulate website.
Then, file Form I-130 to USCIS Service Center. Remember to submit copies of secondary documents and money orders or checks (unless you paid using a credit card).
After getting the Petition for Alien Relative, USCIS will verify whether the petition is complete and then issue an acknowledgment notice to you and your lawyer. If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) feels that the presented documents aren't sufficient, you will be sent a Request for Evidence (RFE).
After you meet all the requirements, you will receive a USCIS Approval Notice. The notice will also notify you where your petition has been transferred to.
If USCIS denies your petition, it is brilliant to figure out what could be the reason and if it can be fixed, file another petition.
- Transferring the File to the National Visa Center (NVC)
If the beneficiary is an immediate relative, the National Visa Center will send you additional paperwork. Usually, the paperwork request proof of financial ability to sponsor the immigrant (Form I-864). Then forward your case to the suitable U.S. consulate in the beneficiary home country.
A preference relative does not qualify for a green card straight away. This is because only a limited number of green cards are available annually, and supply does not meet the high demand. The waiting is determined by years. A priority date secures the beneficiary's place on the waiting list.
- Consular Processing
In case the visa becomes available since the immigrant's priority date became current or is instantly available, the National Visa Center should begin processing your case. The NVC will also issue several instructions and forms to the beneficiary.
At this stage, every immigrant should submit an updated Form I-864 alongside supporting documents (Affidavit of Support) and payment of related levies. You will also be asked to fill Online Immigrant Visa Application and Alien Registration Application (DS-260).
After all necessary documents, fees, and security checks have been paid or completed; the National Visa Center will forward your case to a consular office overseas that was specified on the Petition for Alien Relative. The immigrant will then undergo police clearance, biometrics (fingerprinting), and medical examination.
- Personal Interview With a U.S. Consulate Official
This step involves attending an interview at a consular office. The beneficiary should carry with them copies of every document submitted earlier, not forgetting proof (original) of your family relationship.
If your spouse petitioned you, be ready to answer questions about your affiliation with the petitioner. This is done to check whether you and your spouse intended from the beginning to establish a life together as husband and wife (bona fides). Further questions asked will be used to determine if the alien has previous criminal and health issues (admissible).
Assuming all goes well, the immigrant visa is granted. The consular officer will give you an envelope that contains all visa documents. Only the official at the United States port of entry should open the envelope. The consular officer will make notes on the beneficiary's passport with details of the immigrant date of approval and status.
The United States embassy will give a passport stamp a couple of weeks after your visa interview.
- Reaching the U.S. Port of Entry
This is the last step for all overseas immigrants. Even though the United States embassy has previously issued you a visa, this interview will be with a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent at the border.
The CBP agent should determine whether you indeed qualify to enter the U.S. The agent will ask you questions concerning your prior immigration offenses, severe illness, and conviction. Consequently, it is wise to be cautious when answering these questions as well as have an attorney by your side.
- Obtaining a Green Card
Form I-551 will be mailed to you within a few weeks after reaching the U.S.
More Information on Form I-130 Petition
Form I-130 is the application used to file a family immigrant visa petition. With different aspects of United States immigration, there are several easily missed out details about the Petition for Alien Relative that may break or make your application. Below are vital issues to note.
Are There any Other Forms That You Should File?
Petition for Alien Relative is just the initial step of sponsoring a relative process. Even after immigration officials have approved your petition, the approval itself neither does put heads together nor rights to work and live in the U.S. In other words, the immigration office is made aware of your family relationship. Additionally, it means you should file a different Form I-130 petition for every eligible relative you plan to sponsor.
Necessary Documents You Need to Submit
There is no one answer to the question of what documents you should submit. This is because situations and categories of relationships that meet permanent resident sponsorship requirements vary a lot. Here are practical tips to note when gathering a Petition for Alien Relative materials:
- Proof that you are a U.S. Petitioner
Proving that you're a legal resident or a United States citizen is a significant element you should prove when filing a family petition. Because of the immigration changes made, the criteria for verifying your status is more complicated than it sounds.
If you're a permanent U.S. resident filing a petition for your relative, you should submit a photocopy of Form I-551 Permanent Resident Card (both front and back). You can also present copies of Form I-797 approval notice of permanent residence, immigrant visa stamp, and your passport.
If you're a United States citizen, you should show copies of an American passport, naturalization certificate or birth certificate. However, if you don't have a binding passport or birth certificate, the immigration officers will accept secondary evidence. You will be required to call the Department of Health in the territory or state where you were born and ask for a Letter of No Record alongside birth documents like census records, school records, or baptismal certificate.
With all said and done, you need to give America's immigration officers credible and clear proof of your permanent residence or citizenship. If you have any questions, be sure to contact a knowledgeable attorney.
- Proof of Eligible Relationship to a Prospective Beneficiary
Showing that you have an eligible relationship with your relative whom you intend to sponsor is also very important. The fact that the law qualifies different relationships it is not possible to concretely highlight all the required documents, but below are vital tips:
- Make a Proper Paper Trail
A petitioner should issue the immigration officers with a simple paper trail to track so that they understand that both you and the beneficiary are without a doubt related. For instance, if a petitioner intends to sponsor their sister or brother, they can submit copies such as their birth certificate, their sibling's birth certificate, and their parents' marriage certificate.
- Submit Official Copies
Make sure you submit certificates that are certified and government-issued. Birth certificates must be in the long-form format (the certificate should include the place of birth and the names of both birth parents).
- Avoid the Language Barrier
Assume the immigration officers can't understand any other language apart from English. You can get certified English document translation from a range of firms in the United States that offer translation services.
- Check whether your nation is known for being not capable of offering sufficient records
The United States government knows that several countries don't have complete or existing family record keeping. As a result, the U.S. Department of State gives guidance to the citizens of such countries.
One of your responsibilities as a petitioner is an assurance to the government and the immigrating beneficiary that you will support the beneficiary financially if need be. So, if you're helping a relative acquire permanent residency, you should file Form I-864 to meet the financial promise in question.
How Long Should One Wait for the Priority Date?
If you're an immigrant applying for a family green card, you could wait longer. The exact duration depends on which category your relative is sponsoring you in, demand and supply in the category and per-country visa limits. You can check the progress of individuals who have applied before every month. This section will assist you in understanding the concept of waiting as well as how to handle it.
How Immigrant Visas are Allocated Each Year
Every year, the American government allocates a given number of visas in every preference category. The U.S. government follows a fiscal year that begins and ends in October. A prospective immigrant could be affected if the immigrant visas for their preference category run out before October. That means they've no opportunity of progressing on the visa waiting list till the new year starts.
At this time, the total universal numbers for family-based visa allotment are:
- F1- 23,400, not forgetting any immigrant visa that isn't used for F4
- F2- 11,400 (77% go to category 2A while 23% goes to 2B)
- F3- 23,400 plus any visa that isn't used for F1 and F2
- F4- 65,000 and any other visa not used for F1, F2, and F3.
This could look like very many visas, but more people apply for visas every year than the available number. Typically, the U.S. government issues visa numbers every month to ensure it does not exceed the yearly limit. Also, the number of immigrant visas permitted for every country is limited. The percentage of total immigrant visa numbers that goes to any country is seven percent or less.
It is worth noting that an understanding of the above limits won't assist you in reducing the waiting time. This is because there are many complications to the numbers and allocation of visas. The only significant thing to be familiar with is charting your position on the waiting list.
How to Chart your Position on the Waiting List
Typically, the State Department issues a visa bulletin every month with details about the visa waiting period. Although the bulletin comes out around mid-month, it is not on a particular date.
Visit the official state government website to access the up-to-date bulletin. You will find 2 Family Preference charts with "Date of Filing'' and "Application Final Action Dates''. Here is how to make your way through the charts:
- Locate your category in the left column
- Find your country on the top. Usually, India, Mexico, Philippines, and China have their column since there are many people interested in migrating to America. All other nations are found in the second column.
- Make a line across your category and another from your home country. Where the two lines meet is called cutoff date (the date you will equate with your priority date to chart the progress).
Every immigrant has a priority date. You should get the priority date on the paperwork from USCIS. Prospective immigrants with priority dates that are before the cutoff date in the current month's chart qualify for visa application.
If a beneficiary's priority date is earlier, it means they will get their visa earlier than other applicants. However, the present-day cutoff date does not tell how long you will wait before your visa is available. Instead, it just gives an applicant a clue. If an applicant takes away the cutoff date on the latest Visa Bulletin chart from today's date, they should be able to tell how long prior immigrants waited.
One of the odd things you will notice with monthly Visa Bulletin chart is that sometimes the U.S. government gets overwhelmed by the applications and cutoff dates fail to move for months while the immigration is handling the backlog.
You might also notice a box with the letter U or C in place of the date. A letter "U" means all the available visas for that given year has already been used. Whereas the letter "C" means current and there are a lot of available visas in that preference category and no immigrant will wait.
What Happens When You Change your Address?
If the prospective immigrant or the petitioner changes their address, they need to contact the NVC. They can tell the National Visa Center of their current address online using NVC public inquiry form.
What Should You Do Once the Priority Date is Current?
At some point, you will notice the letter "C" on the Dates for Filing on Bulletin chart or see a later date. That means it will be time to start processing your green card.
Do not wait for the U.S. government to contact you once you notice the priority date became current. If you are currently abroad and fail to hear from the government within a couple of days, call the National Visa Center and inquire about the way forward.
If you're already in America and qualify to apply for a green card, you do not have to wait for an invitation. Instead, submit an adjustment of status application to the USCIS.
If the petitioner did not inform USCIS on the Petition for Alien Relative that you will be changing status, you need to contact the National Visa Center and tell them that you are in America and will adjust status. Then the NVC will send the file to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
What Happens if You Fail to Notice a Current Priority Date?
There are instances when people fail to track the Visa Bulletin. Hence, their priority date becomes current without them realizing it. Sometimes the National Visa Center could have tried to inform them but using the previous address, or maybe the NVC did not monitor an applicant's file.
Fortunately, you have a year after the priority date is current to look for a visa. If you don't, the U.S. government will assume that you have abandoned it and will issue the next immigrant in line, your visa number.
You could have a hard time regaining your visa number if the U.S. government didn't contact you. Thus, we advise you to monitor your priority date.
Find a Reliable Immigration Attorney Near Me
As discussed above, the family-based immigration visa process can be overwhelming, given the documents and requirements that should be submitted to USCIS. The best way to be sure that the necessary legal requirements are met without delay, and the process runs smoothly, is by hiring a competent immigration lawyer. For many years, lawyers at Orange County Immigration Attorney have worked closely with clients and offered legal representation that meets the family’s immigration needs. Call us today at 714-909-0426 to get answers to all your family petitions.