United States law establishes different categories that allow Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) and US Citizens to bring family members to the US. If you are a US Citizen, you are entitled to bring for your spouse, children, parents, and siblings. Lawful Permanent Residents can only apply for their spouse and unmarried children. How long the process takes will depend on their age, relationship to you, immigration history and what country they were born in.
The first step to sponsoring a family member for a Green Card is to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If your family member is your spouse or parent and is in the US, you may be able to complete this stage at the same time as the final Green Card application. If your family member is overseas they will have to attend an interview at a US consulate abroad. It’s important to understand that the filing of the I-130 is just the first step in a long process. Once the I-130 is approved your relative may be eligible for the final stage immediately, or not for many years. Timing will depend on their age, marital status relationship to you, immigration or criminal history, and what country they are from. You can read more about the timing of when your relative can apply for the final stage and learn about priority dates on the Department of State website.
For citizens of Iraq or Syria, an I-130 has special additional benefits by allowing your relative to access P-2 refugee processing. Although priority dates could prevent your family member from coming to the US as a lawful permanent resident for up to a decade or more, an approved I-130 will grant them access to immediate refugee processing. You can read more about the process here: Department of State P-2 Refugee Processing for Iraqis and Syrians.
An 1-360 petition is used to allow people to apply for a Green Card without having a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident file on their behalf. Widows, or spouses and ex-spouses who have been abused by their US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouse, can petition on their own behalf. If you fall into the latter category, you will not need to notify your spouse of your application, nor will your spouse be notified by the government. The purpose of the Act is to allow you to move to a safer place, independently of your abuser.
If you are a US citizen, you may bring your fiancé to the United States using Form I-129F fiancé petition for a nonimmigrant visa (K-1). Once your fiancé arrives you have 90 days to marry and afterwards s/he is eligible to apply for adjustment of status described below.
Fleeing persecution can often mean facing the difficult decision of leaving your family overseas. If you have been approved for asylum or refugee status you have the right to bring your spouse and children under 21 to the US through an I-730 Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition. Form I-730 can be filed for family members overseas or for those living in the US who weren’t included on the original application. Adult unmarried children, orphans, or disabled relatives can also be brought to the US for protection under exceptional circumstances under Humanitarian Parole.
Once your I-130 visa petition is approved, the next step varies by what immigration category your relative falls into and whether they are in the United States. If you are a US citizen filing for your spouse, children under 21, or parents once you turn 21, your relative can usually file for their Green Card at the same time you file the Petition if they are in the US and entered with a visa, even if they have overstayed and aren’t in lawful status anymore. If your relative lives overseas they will need to go to a US consulate to have their visa issued.
If you are only a Lawful Permanent Resident or are a US citizen filing for your children who are over 21 or siblings there can be a long wait. Once your I-130 Petition is approved you will need to check the Department of State visa bulletin regularly to know when your family member can apply.
Deciding whether to process your application in the US or at a consulate overseas is a complicated decision. Someone with an approved visa petition should never leave the US for processing without first speaking to a lawyer to make sure all their rights are protected.
Some individuals with negative immigration or criminal history must apply for a waiver of inadmissibility before they can obtain a Green Card. Most often this is the case for individuals who entered the US unlawfully but are now married to a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, or have a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident parent. Waivers of inadmissibility can also bring loved ones back after removal from the US. Although the removal of a loved one is traumatic it does not necessarily mean they are barred from ever returning to the US. It’s crucial to consult an immigration attorney prior to starting the petition process to assess possible inadmissibility and available waivers. If you have been deemed inadmissible to the US, or have criminal or negative immigration history, Schedule A Consultation to see if a waiver is available for your circumstances.