You’ll have to wait many, many years for a visa for a sister, brother, married son or daughter, or even an unmarried child over 21.  But you don’t have to wait for certain family visas. When a U.S. citizen petitions for a parent, spouse (same or opposite sex), or minor child under 21 there’s no quota. You can also apply for a step-child, if your marriage took place before the step-child turned 18.

You still won’t get the visa approval overnight and it will take months to go through all the steps. If you make mistakes, you could spend years. It’s very important to make sure there are no legal problems with your application. You could have real problems if your relative has arrests or convictions anywhere in the world, has overstayed a U.S. visa in the past, has a health problem, and for many other issues. If the U.S. citizen has certain criminal convictions, s/he may not be able to sponsor a family member at all.

There are two different situations – either the person being sponsored is outside or inside the U.S. That makes a big difference in the process and fees. Here’s a quick explanation.

  1. If the foreign relative lives abroad, you’ll go through “consular processing.” I wrote a post before with details of all the steps and suggest you read it here: “Will 2015 be the Year for Your Green Card?
  1. If your foreign relative is legally in the U.S., you might be able to apply for “adjustment of status” to a legal permanent resident or green card holder. That means your relative can interview in the U.S. instead of going to the foreign consulate.

To apply for adjustment of status, the U.S. citizen files an I-130 petition ($420 government fee) – the same form that’s filed for consular processing, and the I-864 Affidavit of Support.  In addition, your relative will file a form I-485 ($1,070 government fee for an adult). Usually s/he will also file two more applications to request permission to work and travel outside the U.S. while waiting for the green card interview. Getting authorization to work and travel is one of the big advantages to the stateside process; you should get a decision within 90 days of filing and normally it’s approved.

Then you wait. You’ll be scheduled for a biometrics appointment for fingerprints and photos soon after filing. USCIS (immigration) will write you if they need more evidence of the relationship or other facts that must be proved. The next step is an interview at the local USCIS office. Usually you’ll get a notice of the interview within several months of filing. The government posts the timeframes for each office but your case can move more quickly or slowly than those times.

Hopefully the green card will be approved at the interview and it will soon arrive in the mail. It’s also possible they will ask for more evidence and  your application can be denied.

If your relative entered the U.S. without being questioned (“inspected”) by an officer at the border or port of entry, it’s going to be much harder. In fact, you might have to apply for a “hardship waiver” which is difficult and time-consuming. I won’t go into the details of a waiver application here. Schedule an initial consultation for legal advice if you want to discuss.

Does it help to have an immigration lawyer represent you?  Of course it does (what did you think I would say!).  Many documents and forms are required and most people, even very smart and highly-educated people, find the whole thing quite confusing. You’ll probably go through the green card process once or at most a few times in your life, whereas immigration lawyers have a lot of experience and knowledge with it.  You’re going to save yourself a lot of time, money and heartache by exploring any possible problems with a good immigration lawyer, and preventing problems from the start.

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