How To Bring Your Family To The US in 2024 (Step-By-Step Guide)

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How To Bring Your Family To The US in 2024 (Step-By-Step Guide)

Which relatives are you allowed to sponsor for a green card in the US, and how long might this process take? Well, this is going to depend on one very important thing, whether or not you are a United States citizen or whether or not you have just a green card.

And next, it's also going to depend on where your relative is located, whether they're inside the United States or whether they are outside the United States.

Green Card Holder With Relatives Outside The U.S.

First, let's talk about what it takes for a green card holder to sponsor a relative and what types of relatives that a green card holder is allowed to petition for. First, as a green card holder, you are really only allowed to petition for two types of relatives. One, that is your child and second, that is your spouse. When it comes to your children, this category is further broken down into two more categories. First will be called your child or the F2A category. And the F2A category includes children who are under 21 years of age, who also happen to be unmarried.

Make note, marital status of your children is going to affect their ability to get a green card greatly. The second category that you will be able to petition for as a green card holder are going to be your sons and daughters over the age of 21, as long as they are unmarried. Now this category is called the F2B category, sons and daughters of green card holders. And this only includes sons and daughters who are unmarried. Now your stepchildren can also count as your child. However, you must have married your stepchild's parent before they turn 18 years of age.

If you enter into a marriage when your stepchild has already turned 18, then they may no longer qualify to be considered your stepchild. If you want to sponsor more family members, you must first become a US citizen, which we'll discuss below. And then next, you can absolutely petition for your spouse. Now there is a vastly different process for sponsoring your relative when they are outside the United States versus when they are inside the United States. And I will actually talk more in a little bit about the pitfalls to avoid if you are a green card holder trying to sponsor your spouse or child who's inside the US, and whether or not that's actually even possible.

Now, first of all, whether or not your spouse or child is inside or outside of the US, the very first thing that you must do is file something called the Form I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative. This petition is submitted directly to USCIS. And once this petition is approved, then it will establish that relative category upon which your relative can then get a green card. If your relative is outside the United States, then you must indicate on your I-130 that you are requesting processing at a consulate abroad.

If you fail to indicate this on your I-130, then it can delay your case by up to a year or more, because then you would need to file an additional application called the I-824 to have your I-130 approval sent to the consulate abroad. Then after your I-130 is approved, the USCIS agency will send your I-130 approval to the National Visa Center.

Now, the National Visa Center is actually an agency underneath the Department of State. And it is the Department of State, not the Department of Homeland Security, that is in charge of issuing immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas. In this case, you want your relative to get an immigrant visa because that is what is going to entitle them to get a green card in the U.S. After your case has been passed to NVC, then NVC will generate a new and unique case number that will identify your case to which your relative will be assigned.

They will also generate two invoices, one for the Affidavit of Support and the second for the Immigrant Visa Application. These two fees must be paid first and the payments must clear in order for the next step of your application to occur. This next step is going to be submitting documents and submitting the Affidavit of Support to USCIS, as well as filling out the form DS-260 online through the NVC website.

You will need to gather many types of evidences, including the Affidavit of Support, tax returns, financial information, proof of the relationship upon which your relative is being sponsored, and other types of information NVC may request. One of my best tips that I can give to you is to look at the NVC website and just simply Google "NVC Reciprocity Schedule". This will take you to a list of countries and underneath each country you can actually see all the documents that you may be able to get, and the process for obtaining these documentations, and even what sort of official seals and stamps the document should have.

Usually on this page, you will find further instructions on how to obtain certain things like divorce documents, military service papers, court papers, and most importantly, your relative's police clearance. Once all the required documentation has been uploaded to NVC through their website, then you must wait a period of time for NVC to review the case.

Now, if your case is an electronically processed case, which is usually indicated by your case having the letters "IV" in the case name, then NVC's review of this documentation can generally take anywhere from one to two months and is considered to be pretty fast. However, if your case is not being processed electronically, then NVC can take up to six months to review all of your documents, as they must be submitted by mail. So, depending on whether your case is an electronic case or a paper case, this stage of NVC review may take anywhere from one month to six months. But once NVC has officially finished reviewing your case and accepted all documents, then they will say that your case is "Documentarily Qualified" and that you have been placed in line for an interview at the consulate.

Once your case has been documentarily qualified, you may be wondering "how long will it take to get the interview at the consulate?" And if you've been watching any of my videos, one thing that I always say is that location, location, location matters. It depends on what consulate you are going to have to go to and which country they are in. My general rule of thumb is that there are some very busy countries, and they can take up to a year or more sometimes to schedule your relative for an interview. And then there are some consulates that are less busy and they may take only a couple of months to schedule your relative for an interview.

But one more thing that will affect when your relative gets an interview is the visa bulletin. You need to be checking the visa bulletin once a month to see what it says. Because you are a green card holder, your relative is considered to be what is called a "Preference Category Relative". And as such, the government will put them into waiting periods in order to be issued a visa. Depending on what that visa bulletin says and how long that waiting period may be, the consulate may not schedule the interview until a visa number is available to your relative, otherwise known as being current.

Now, once your priority date becomes current, that is when you'll have the opportunity to be scheduled for an interview, and the consulate will notify you through NVC of your actual appointment date. However, I do want to caution you that just because your priority date is current does not mean that you will get your interview right away. There is still going to be a wait time. and depending again on which consulate you have to report to, that wait time may still be up to a year or more depending on the availability of appointments. It is also important to note that consulates tend to prioritize interviews of U.S. citizens, spouses, children, and parents because they are immediate relatives. So this may cause an even longer wait time once your priority date is actually reached.

Once the interview is scheduled, your relative will have to take some further actions. Sometimes this means that they have to get a medical exam. Also, it might mean that they have to refresh certain documents and bring new evidence to the interview. They must prepare well and then present themselves at the consulate in front of the consular officer for their appointment.

Now, once your interview has been held, and you have answered all the questions, and passed the interview with flying colors, your relative will get their passport back. Once they receive the passport, it should contain the visa foil of the immigrant visa and it is important to note that this visa is only valid for six months. That means that your relative must use this visa to enter the United States within six months, otherwise it will be considered to be expired and they'll have to go for another interview at the consulate. However, once they enter the United States, the visa will become endorsed and they will be able to use that visa as proof of their permanent residency for a period of up to one year while they wait for the green card to arrive in the mail.

However, there's always a delay as usual with even this, and clients report waiting up to six months for the green card to arrive by mail. That is why it's important for you to understand that once your visa foil inside of your passport has been stamped, that by itself also serves as proof of residency for your relative. With this stamp, they can travel back and forth between the US and any other country that they're allowed to go to, and they can also show this as proof of their ability to work legally in the US. Now the average time that I would say that it takes for a green card holder to submit the I-130 and then for the relative to get the immigrant visa issued can be anywhere from 29 to 40 months, but this is highly dependent on not just your category, but also on your relative's country of birth.

And the wait time can be as long as 10 years if your relative is born in the Philippines, and as long as 20 years or more if they are born in Mexico. Keep in mind that the country of birth actually controls which column to look at when looking at the visa bulletin, and not necessarily the country of your relative's nationality.

I'll include a link here to the NVC's website that details a step-by-step direction of these steps.

Green Card Holder With Relatives Inside The U.S.

Now if you are a green card holder and your relative that you want to sponsor is inside the United States, the process is different. However, there are a couple of pitfalls that you must keep in mind. Now if your spouse and child are inside the United States, you would also start by filing the Form I-130 Petition For An Alien Relative with USCIS just as though they were outside the United States.

However, when you are a green card holder and your spouse or your child underneath the age 21 is inside the United States and you want to petition them for a green card, you may not necessarily be able to file the form I-485 in all circumstances. There are two important things that your relative must be able to satisfy in order to be eligible to file the form I-485 in order for them to adjust their status inside the United States. The first is that your spouse must have a lawful status at the time that the I-485 is filed.

Now keep in mind, if you are a green card holder then your spouse or minor child will fall into a preference category and you would not be able to file the form I-485 until their category is current according to the visa bulletin board ,and until the Date For Filing or the Final Action Date is current as well according to USCIS.

During the time that it takes for their priority date to become current, your relative must number one, maintain a lawful status and have a lawful status at the time that the I-485 is ready to be filed and number two, they cannot have more than 180 days of unlawful presence. If they have more than 180 days of unlawful presence, then they would require a waiver for this case. And if they are no longer in lawful status at the time of the I-485 filing, then that means that they would only be eligible to process their case abroad at the consulate, basically following the pathway and the steps mentioned earlier in this video.

However, let's just assume that your spouse or your child are in lawful status and there is no unlawful presence to worry about. Then after the I-130 is approved, you would wait for the category to become current, then you would follow the USCIS directions indicating whether or not USCIS is currently accepting applications according to the Final Action Date chart or the Date Of Filing chart.

So instead of filing the DS-260 to process abroad at the consulate for an immigrant visa, then you would file the Form I-485 Application For Adjustment Of Status for your relative instead. Sometimes they would have an interview at a USCIS field office,  and other times their interview may be waived. Assuming there's an interview and there are no problems for your relative to adjust, the green card should arrive in the mail in hopefully four to six weeks.

The total amount of time that it would take your relative to process while inside the United States, again, would depend on the visa bulletin, but once the visa bulletin is current, then it could take as little as six months to up to a year for the I-485 to be processed for the actual green card. Now, if your child is above age 21, then their case would still take eight to nine years possibly for the visa bulletin to become current. And during this time, it may be better, and more advisable, for them to return home abroad to finish processing while outside the United States, since it is so difficult to have any sort of status inside the United States, unless they are eligible for an independent sort of visa. And if that were the case, then you may not need to be doing the green card for them anyway.

Coming up, I'm going to discuss exactly what sort of relatives that a US citizen can ask the government for a green card, and why in many instances it is easier for a citizen to sponsor a family. But before I do so, I did want to let you know that I am accepting new clients.

If you would like our help on your case, call us at 212-248-7907 to schedule a case evaluation. I'm based in New York. However, I work with clients all over the US.

Okay, next, exactly what type of relatives can a US citizen bring to the US and help get a green card?

Who Can A U.S. Citizen Sponsor?

Not only can they petition for a spouse, or a child under 21, and a child over 21 (as long as they are unmarried), a US citizen can also petition for a child over 21 who is married, a mother and a father, and, most importantly, a brother or a sister.

Now, as previously mentioned, the spouse, child under 21, and parent of a US citizen are considered to be an immediate relative. This means that no matter what the visa bulletin says, there is no wait time for a visa to be issued. Therefore, even though the process is largely the same, there is no wait time for the visa interview to be scheduled or for the I-485 to be filed. Instead, these things can pretty much be done at the same time as the filing of the I-130, so to speak.

However, if the relative is abroad, we must always first wait for the I-130 to be approved, and then still wait whatever the time is required in order for NVC to schedule an interview, and then for the interview at the consulate to actually occur.

But because there is literally no wait time when somebody is an immediate relative, normally once the I-130 is approved, the approval is sent to the National Visa Center within a month or two after approval, instead of the longer wait time that most permanent residents need to wait. And there is no wait time for the application to be considered to be Documentarily Qualified or to be ready for an interview because visa numbers are immediately available. And in cases where an immediate relative is inside the United States, the US citizen can file for this relative immediately and the pit falls that apply to the relative of a green card holder would not apply in this instance.

That means that if you are the spouse, child under 21, or parent of a US citizen, because you are an immediate relative, you do not need to maintain a lawful status and you can have as much unlawful presence as is possible and that would still not prevent you from being able to file an I-485 at the same time your US citizen relative files the I-130 for you. That is why in immigration we call this a one-step case.

Now please note that if you are wanting to petition for anyone who is not an immediate relative, this means your child over 21, whether they are married or unmarried or for your siblings, then they must follow the same procedure and their applications would need to wait the period of time required by the visa bulletin until their category is current. And remember those pit falls that I mentioned about a green card holder's relative?

Well for anyone who's not an immediate relative of a US citizen, the same things would apply.

I frequently get asked the question about how a US citizen can petition for their brother or sister who is inside the United States, and I will usually have to give the bad news that because the sibling has been in the US for many years and is out of status and has unlawful presence, even though there is a US citizen relative to sponsor them, they would most likely need to leave the US for processing because they would not be eligible for Adjustment of Status. And once someone leaves the US, that may raise additional problems of requiring waivers for unlawful presence.

Now keep in mind that there is no category available to even US citizens for aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers-in-laws, fathers-in-laws, sisters-in-laws, brothers-in-laws, or grandparents. Instead the way to help these relatives is to help them indirectly by you sponsoring your mom or dad or child, and then them petitioning for those relatives instead.

Another pitfall that I want to point out to you that happens to a lot of people is if you start out petitioning for your spouse and children underneath 21, when you are a green card holder, many times if you decide to naturalize during this process, it can affect the case that you are doing for your child because once you become a US citizen, that child underneath 21 would then become an immediate relative and you would need to file a separate petition for them on the I-130 form instead of them being a derivative to your spouse as you would have been allowed to do when you were a green card holder.

And next, another pitfall that I would like to warn you about is if you are petitioning for any of your children and they happen to get married because of the long long wait time, then that can also cause them to fall into a different preference category and affect the amount of time they then have to wait.

If you want to learn more about the differences between US citizens and green card holders, be sure to watch my video comparing the two.

In it, I explained why some people may decide to stay a green card holder and why others may decide to become a US citizen because of the differences in rights and responsibilities.

We cover such topics as travel, taxes, and politics, so you don't want to miss it.

Click to watch that video next and I'll see you there.

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