Here is an overview of family visas. Click here to schedule a consultation on your case by Skype, phone or email (or in person in Oregon, US).
Fiancée, Marriage, Children, Parents, Sisters & Brothers
You can apply for a U.S. family visa for family members if you’re an adult U.S. Citizen or have a Green Card (Legal Permanent Resident or LPR).
- If you’re a citizen you can apply for your fiancé(e), husband, wife, children including step and married children, parents, same-sex spouse, sisters and brothers, and their spouse and children.
- If you hold a green card, you can sponsor your spouse including same-sex spouse, and unmarried children of any age.
- You cannot sponsor any other relatives: you can’t sponsor a niece, nephew, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparent, grandchild, in-laws or any other relative not mentioned above. That’s the law.
We get too many calls from people after they’ve run into trouble. It’s harder to clear up problems later and far better to have a good immigration lawyer prepare your case from the start. There’s never a guarantee of a visa; you have to prove your case to the U.S. government. The better your case is presented, the better and faster your chance of success will be. You can find more information on completing the Affidavit of Support form on our blog; it’s one of the more confusing steps in the process. Click here for a step-by-step guide to filing for siblings and adult children.
For information on Fiancée Visas click here.
- Husband or Wife of a U.S. Citizen. When a U.S. citizen applies for a foreign spouse, there are no visa quotas but it can take a while to process the paperwork and prove your case. You must show your marriage is genuine – that you didn’t marry just for a green card. The government often suspects fraud, especially in countries with a high rate of visa fraud, so you’ll need to prove your relationship is genuine with pictures and documents. Each foreign child – unmarried and under 21 – needs a separate petition; they can’t be included with the parent. Click here for details on applying for a spouse, minor child or parent if you’re a U.S. citizen.
- Husband or Wife of a Green Card holder (LPR). There’s a quota for a spousal visa, so the sooner you apply, the sooner she or he might get a Green Card. As of April 2014, the wait is about 8 months for every country except Mexico, where it’s about 2 years. Add more time for government processing. You can include unmarried children under 21 in your petition, but it may be better to file separate petitions for each child.
- You’re the same-sex spouse of a U.S. Citizen or LPR (Green Card). The same rules now apply to same-sex marriages. You have to prove you have a valid marriage where the ceremony was performed.
When the family member is abroad, the U.S. Citizen or Green Card holder files an I-130 petition in the U.S. to prove there is a genuine marriage and all other requirements are met. It takes about 5-9 months for a decision, then, if the I-130 is approved, the papers are sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The NVC collects the fees and documents for the consulate abroad. You can spend more time than necessary at this step if you don’t provide the documents they request., and delays can take months and even years. Attorney Keir worked at the NVC for two years in a non-legal position, and is familiar with the requirements.
Once the NVC has the required fees, forms, and documents, they schedule the appointment for the embassy or consulate abroad, and then send the documents to the embassy for the interview. Timing of the interview depends on how backlogged the embassy is; if it’s a very busy embassy, it can take months. You must get a medical examination with an approved doctor before the interview. Your interview will be very fast – 3 minutes isn’t unusual, so you really need to prove your case with the documents ahead of time as much as possible.
Remember – there’s no guarantee the embassy will approve your green card application! The NVC just collects and checks the documents; they do NOT make the decision. That’s completely up to the embassy. It’s much better to have your papers and case in order before you begin. It’s very difficult to change the mind of the embassy if they decide against you and there aren’t automatic rights of appeal. Typical time spent on the entire process is at least 9-12 months so it’s heart-breaking to fail after you spend so much time, effort and money to be together in the U.S.
Visas for Children Abroad
A U.S. citizen can apply for green cards for their children abroad, whether they’re over or under 21, and even if they’re married. But only children under 21 are considered “immediate relatives” which means there is no wait for a visa to be available. It will still take some time to apply. You can also apply for step-children, if your marriage took place before the step-child turned 18. There is a long backlog for visas for children over 21, whether or not they’re married.
If you have a green card, you can apply for a visa for your unmarried children under or over 21, but not for any married child. There is a backlog in these categories.
U.S. citizens who are at least 21 can apply for their parents to immigrate to the U.S. There is no quota or backlog for parents, but the application process usually takes 9-12 months. You have to prove the person really is your parent. Green card holders cannot apply for their parents.
A U.S. citizen who is 21 or older can apply for a green card for a brother or sister abroad. You have to prove the person is really your sibling, which can be difficult in some cases. The backlog for sibling visas is very long – from 10+ to 20+ years, depending on the country. The longest waits are for Mexican and Filipinos. See the State Department’s Visa Bulletin, updated each month, for the current wait for your country. The sooner the U.S. citizen files the petition, the sooner your family will qualify. You can also include the family members – spouse and minor children – in the application.
Links for Additional Information