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Taking The First Steps To A Green Card: Filing An Immigrant Family Petition
You’re here for a reason . . . your family is important to you.
You want to help them become permanent residents.
And you know the first step is to file an immigration visa petition for them.
But you’re not sure how to handle this on your own.
You know helping your relatives become legal residents has potential pitfalls . . .
. . . starting with the first set of paperwork you must file for them.
. . . starting with the family-based visa petition you must file for them.
Your efforts to bring – or keep – your loved ones together can be torpedoed before they really get off the ground. Miscues, mishaps, and missteps can lead to long delays, increased costs, or worse.
Naturally, you’re afraid.
You’re afraid to make mistakes which might harm your family members.
Deep inside, you want to help your loved ones. But you’re heard too many stories about how your efforts to help your mother or father, spouse or child, brother or sister could backfire.
You’ve Heard Neighborhood Gossip.
You want to file a family petition for your elderly mother. Her tourist visa expired a few years ago. She has been living with you and your husband. You were told by a neighbor that he was not allowed to immigrate his mother.
You Fear Deportation Of Loved Ones.
You want to sponsor your brother. He had papers filed by his ex-wife many, many years ago. They divorced. You read a story about a person who was arrested after he filed green card papers and went to an interview without his spouse. He was sent to Immigration Court for deportation and removal. You think the same thing might happen to your brother.
You Were Told There’s Just No Chance To Win.
You want a family visa for your son. You went to the office of an immigration consultant to fill out a petition to immigrate him. She told you that you cannot help him because he is 21 and married.
Making immigration family unity decisions based on fear is the worst thing you can do.
Maybe you really can help your family members. With so much at stake, why guess?
Guessing is not the way to find the best solution.
That’s where our experience in handling family-based immigration petitions comes in. We can help you figure out which relatives you can help – and which ones you cannot help.
Don’t Take A Chance. Here Is What You Need To Know.
If you’re like most clients who want to petition a family relative for a immigrant visa (and later for a green card), you probably have three main questions:
- What immigrant relatives can you sponsor?
- How does the visa petition process work?
- How long will it take to finish the process?
What Relatives Can You Sponsor For A Immigration Family Visa?
There are two categories of family visa petitioners. Some sponsors are U. S. citizens. Others are lawful permanent residents. There are some big differences between the two categories.
A U.S. citizen can “open the door” for four different relatives:
On the other hand, a lawful resident can only help two set of relatives:
- Children, Unmarried
This breakdown is reflected in the following chart.
I-130 Family-Based Petitions Chart
Family Visa Beneficiaries: Immediate Relatives Or Family Preference Relatives?
Here’s a short tip on terminology.
- If you are sponsoring someone for a visa, you are considered the petitioner.
- The relative whom you are sponsoring is deemed the beneficiary.
- Beneficiaries are classified as either immediate relatives or family preference relatives.
Immediate Relatives Of U. S. Citizens
As the I-130 visa petitions chart above shows, if you’re a U. S. citizen, certain relatives you petition are classified as “immediate relatives”.
This label only applies to beneficiaries of U.S. citizens – but it does not apply to all beneficiaries of U.S. citizens.
Here is the main advantage for beneficiaries who are immediate relatives.
Immediate relatives are not subject to the limits on the amount of immigrant visas given out each year. This means they will be able to file for a green card without a long waiting period – and usually they will get their green card interviews scheduled more quickly than family preference relatives, often far more quickly.
So which family members of U.S. citizens are immediate relatives?
Only (a) immigrant spouses, (b) unmarried immigrant children, under the age of 21, and (c) immigrant parents of children over 21.
Family Visas Preference Benefeciaries
The other eligible relatives of U. S. citizens are placed into the immigration family-based preference system.
The same is true of those family members who are allowed to be sponsored by lawful permanent residents.
Unlike immediate relatives, family preference beneficiaries are subject to the annual visa quotas. This often leads to long waits, especially for immigrants from countries where the number of people who apply each year exceed their country’s visa numerical limits.
Family preference beneficiaries are divided into four categories.
Each category has a different waiting period. If your relatives are in a higher preference category, they will normally be able to file for a green card sooner than those in a lower category.
For example, if your relative is in the First Preference category, his papers will usually move faster than your relatives in the Second, Third, or Fourth Preference categories.
The lower the category, like Third or Fourth Preference, means the longer an immigrant will need to wait before he is entitled to a green card interview.
Who Is Your Child Under Family-Based Visa Rules?
At first glance, this seems like a simple, almost silly, question. However, not all families are the same.
The rules for immigrant children can get tricky. To begin, under immigration law, the term “child” has a special meaning. The keys are (a) marital status and (b) age.
Consider the following situations:
Unmarried And Under 21 Years Of Age
If your son or daughter is unmarried and under 21 years, then your son or daughter is a “child” under immigration law.
Married Or Over 21 Years Of Age
If your son is married, but under 21, he is not a child under immigration family visa rules. Immigration law calls him a “son.”
If your son is over 21, but not married, he is not considered a child. Again, he is a “son” under immigration regulations.
What if your son was married at the age of 18, but divorced a year later? He is now 20 years old. If you file papers for him today, he is a “child” because he is now unmarried and still under 21. Once he turns 21, he is now your “son.”
Why is this important?
As the family visas chart, above, illustrates, a child of a U.S. citizen is classified as an immediate relative. This means his or her paperwork will move relatively quickly through the green card process.
On the other hand, a son or daughter can only file for permanent residence under the family preference system. The process, as noted earlier, under the family preference system is much slower. In some cases, the wait can be up to 20 years or more.
If you marry someone, and your new spouse has a child under 18, then a valid stepparent-stepchild relationship exists for immigration purposes for family preference beneficiaries.
Adopted Immigrant Children
If you adopt an immigrant child before he is 16 years old, and he has been in your legal and physical custody for two years before the adoption, you are allowed to file a family petition to immigrate your adopted son.
Adopted Orphan Immigrant Children
The rules for immigrating an adopted orphan are more complicated. In addition, only immigrant orphans adopted by a U.S. citizen qualify as children under immigration law.
Children Born Out Of Wedlock
A child born “out of wedlock” means a child’s parents were not married at the time of birth. Two issues arise if a child tries to immigrate through his father.
First, the father must prove his child has been legitimated. In most cases, this can be done by submitting a birth certificate listing him as the father. Sometimes, the father is not listed on the birth certificate and other types of proof are needed to prove the child has been legitimated.
Second, the father must demonstrate he had a real parent-child relationship and participated in his child’s support, instruction, and general welfare before his child turned 21.
How Does The I-130 Immigrant Relative Petition Process Work?
There are three basic steps to applying for an immigrant relative visa.
Preparing The Family-Based Visa
The first step of the visa process is to complete and submit a visa petition, commonly referred to as Form I-130.
Your petition must be supported with evidence to establish:
- Whether the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- What type of family relationship bonds the petitioner and beneficiary (i.e., husband – wife parent – child, brother – sister)
- Where the beneficiary will attend the green card interview (in the U.S. or their home country)
All of your legal documents, such as birth certificates and marriage certificates, must be properly certified by a court or government agency. If any of your documents are in a foreign language, they must be officially translated, as well as properly certified by the appropriate courts or agencies in your home country.
Although the I-130 questions seem straight-forward, your answers should not be given in a light-hearted manner. They can lead to complicated legal issues not apparent on the surface of the form.
Tips To Avoid Mistakes, Delays, And Problems
Our office follows a few simple rules to avoid hidden complications.
We never file an I-130 unless we have conducted a complete interview with both the petitioner and beneficiary.
Some clients call our office asking if we can review their petitions for them before they file them. Our office refuses to do so, since merely asking a few quick questions and obtaining a few quick answers is like the blind leading the blind.
We never file an I-130 if we have any doubts about the accuracy of a petitioner or a beneficiary’s answers.
It is wiser to delay filing the I-130 to investigate discrepancies and clarify inconsistencies before paying your fees and submitting your petition. In some cases, we have to do background checks for arrest records, criminal convictions, and past immigration history.
Clients have sought our services after they went forward on their own, and learned that an assumption was wrong, like a previous divorce that was never finalized.
We never file an I-130 if we suspect any of the information is false or deceptive.
At time, clients visit our office after they discover errors made by others who helped them. This occurs when clients believed their papers, with the help of a notario or legal assistant, were filed correctly, only to later discover important information had been omitted or falsified.
In these situations, we can sometimes correct the problems. But not always.
Worse, if the government suspects immigration fraud, it can lead to your relative being arrested and deported.
USCIS Reviews The I-130 Family-Based Petition
Once the government receives the petition, it begins the review process. The agency which goes over your documents is the United States Citizenship And Immigration Services (USCIS).
The petition can only be filed through the mail. There are no local immigration offices for filing purposes.
At this point, certain stumbling blocks may arise. Normally, problems stem from incomplete packages of supporting evidence.
It could be a missing or illegible document.
It could be the lack of proper government certification for a birth, death, marriage, or divorce certificate.
It could the improper filing fees or inconsistent information listed on the petition.
USCIS may return the entire package to you. Other times, the agency sends you a Request For Evidence, a document which pinpoints what evidence they’re questioning.
After you comply with their request for additional information, the government will continue processing your petition, If there are no major legal problems, your petition will move to the next stage.
The I-130 Immigrant Relative Petition Approval
After USCIS reviews the I-130 and finds the petitioner has met all the requirements, it issues an Approval Notice.
Some immigrants are confused about the meaning of an approved I-130 petition. The main purpose is that it shows you have a valid relationship to immigrate your family member.
It does not confer permanent residency benefits upon the beneficiary.
For instance, if you’re attempting to petition your wife for green card benefits, it only serves to show that your marriage is technically legal.
How Long Does The Immigrant Relative Petition Process Take?
Generally, the waiting time for an Approval Notice of an I-130 immigrant relative visa petition is about five months. Some petitions are approved more quickly. Others take more time.
But the filing of the I-130 immigration family visa petition is merely the first step of the complete family unity legalization process.
Helping a relative win permanent residency is a two-step endeavor.
As a result, after your immigrant petition has been approved, you’ll still need to take the second step of the legalization process, filing for permanent residence.
If you’re serious about discovering how to file a visa petition for a family member, with fresh eyes in a comprehensive manner . . .
Let’s schedule your Strategy And Planning Session today.