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Family options for immigration sponsorship

interstride logo by Interstride
January 16, 2023

This blog post was co-authored by Carole Rowlinson, Senior Associate at Fragomen.

Family members of US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) have non-employment US immigration options through family sponsorship. Specific immigration pathways are available to spouses, children, parents, and siblings, along with humanitarian processes, including asylum and humanitarian parole. For international students studying in the US, family sponsorship may be an option for you or your family members to live and work in the US after graduation.

What are family options for immigration sponsorship in the US?

Can a US citizen sponsor a family member? The short answer is yes. However, the type of temporary visas and permanent residency green cards you can apply for depend on numerous factors including the type of relationship you have with them, the country your family member is from, and whether you are a US citizen or LPR.

First, let’s look at options for temporary visas that will allow family members of US citizens to enter the US before applying for permanent residency or while waiting for their green card to be processed.

Spousal visa options

For foreign nationals who are already married to a US citizen or engaged to get married, there are temporary K visas for the spouse/fiance or their children. Here is a breakdown of the four K visas:

  • K-1 visa – for fiances of US citizens
  • K-2 visa – for unmarried, under-21-year-old children of the fiances of US citizens
  • K-3 visa – for current spouses of US citizens
  • K-4 visa – for unmarried, under-21-year-old children of the spouses of US citizens

To qualify for a K-1 visa, the US citizen and their fiance must prove their relationship is genuine. They must have met in person within the past two years unless they can prove a valid reason why this was not possible. Lastly, they must agree to get married within 90 days of the fiance arriving in the US. The visa lasts four months and the foreign national must apply for an adjustment of status to get a green card before their K-1 visa expires. The average processing time for a K-1 visa is six months. Same-sex couples who plan to marry are also eligible for a K-1 visa regardless of the laws regarding same-sex marriage in the foreign national’s home country.

Foreign nationals who want to bring their unmarried child(ren) with them to the US will need to complete a K-2 visa application along with their K-1. The children will be able to enter the US at the same time or after their parents.

The K-3 visa is similar to the K-1 but it is for couples that are already married. The main difference is that foreign nationals must apply for their marriage-based green card before or at the same time as they submit their K-3 visa application. The K-4 visa works in the same way as the K-2 visa but for parents applying for a K-3 visa.

I-130 petition for permanent residency

K visas are temporary visas, and foreign nationals seeking long-term immigration to the US should apply for a green card as soon as possible. The I-130 petition is a family-based green card that allows immediate relatives of US citizens and certain relatives of LPRs to live and work in the US for up to ten years with the possibility of renewal.

If you are a US citizen, the following immediate relatives can apply for a family-based green card without limits on the number of applicants accepted each year or wait times beyond normal processing times:

  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Unmarried children under 21 years old

Those with LPR status can also apply to sponsor immediate relatives but there are yearly limits and backlogs depending on the person’s country of birth. Additionally, US citizens can also sponsor their unmarried children over 21 years old.

These additional family sponsorship options are subject to limits and wait times based on the following preference categories:

  • First preference – unmarried, over 21-year-old children of US citizens
  • Second preference (2A) – spouses and unmarried, under 21-year-old children of LPRs
  • Second preference (2B) – unmarried, over 21-year-old children of LPRs
  • Third preference – married children of US citizens
  • Fourth preference – siblings of adult US citizens

Because the wait times for some family-based green cards can be up to ten years, foreign nationals who applied as children may not be children anymore. Through the Child Status Protection Act, if the petition was filed while the foreign national was a child, but they are now an adult, they may still qualify for the immigration preference based on the age on their application without any additional paperwork required.

Unfortunately, LPRs cannot sponsor their parents, siblings, or married children. Other relatives such as cousins, grandparents/grandchildren, and aunts/uncles/nieces/nephews are not eligible to be the beneficiary of a family-based petition.

How do I apply for family-based immigration sponsorship?

Foreign nationals can apply for I-130 Petition while outside of the US or through adjustment of status, if they are already in the US. This is a great option for international students because they may not need to return to their home country after graduation and before seeking permanent residency. The way you apply for adjustment of status varies based on what type of student visa you were granted and your current immigration status. The application process will likely include an interview with the local USCIS office. If your student visa has already expired or has a home country physical presence requirement, you may need to return to your home country and apply for your family-based green card there.

Are you on a J-1 student visa? Learn how to waive the two-year home country requirement and fast-track your green card application from Interstride’s blog.

Someone currently outside the US can submit an I-130 petition using consular processing through the National Visa Center (NVC). Consular processing times take several months. Additionally, the sponsoring family member must complete an affidavit proving they have the financial resources to support the immigrant family member.

Tips for immigration sponsorship for families

This section covers tips for families who have special circumstances such as:

  • Recent marriages
  • Inadmissible family members
  • Adopted children
  • Step parents

With the I-130 petition, spouses who have been married for less than two years, at the time the green card is approved, will be granted conditional residence. This conditional green card lasts two years. After this time, the couple must prove their marriage is still intact in order to be granted a 10-year green card.

If any family member was previously proven inadmissible, this may be waived if you can show extreme hardship to the foreign national’s spouse, parents, or children if those family members are US citizens or permanent residents.

US citizens who adopt children under 17 years old from another country can sponsor them so that the children can live and study in the US. Children adopted from countries that are part of the Hague Convention have a special immigration process that does not require the I-130 petition. These adopted children receive a green card before arrival to the US and are automatically put on an expedited path to citizenship. To adopt a child from a Hague Convention country, follow the Hague Process using an I-800 petition.

If you are adopting a child from a non-Hague country, you must first obtain two-year conditional custody of the child using an I-600 orphan petition. After two years of having legal, physical custody of the adopted child, the US citizen can file an I-130 petition to sponsor them as a permanent resident.

A step-parent can also apply to sponsor their step-child to get a green card using the I-130 petition. To qualify, the biological parent and step-parent must marry before the child turns 18. The step-parent must prove that they have a genuine relationship with their spouse and the child.

Humanitarian immigration options

Several humanitarian immigration policies in the US apply to family members of US citizens and LPRs. For example, the VAWA Act protects foreign nationals from abuse by allowing them to self-petition for permanent residency. To qualify for the VAWA Act, the foreign national must be a spouse, child, or parent of the abusive US citizen or LPR.

Additionally, some family members may qualify for Humanitarian Parole. This is used in rare cases when someone outside of the US has a significant, urgent need to get to the US such as women in Afghanistan who are threatened by the Taliban. Humanitarian Parole is a temporary visa granted for a predetermined amount of time based on the specific circumstances.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is similar to Humanitarian Parole but for people already in the US who are not able to return to their home countries for reasons such as natural disasters or war. This temporary visa provides work authorization but does not provide a green card. It may be a good option for qualifying foreign nationals who do not have a family member to sponsor them.

Another option for parents to be aware of is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA applies to children already in the US who came before their 16th birthday and have remained in the US since then. No new DACA applications are being accepted but current ones can be extended for continued work authorization. However, like TPS this is not a permanent residency pathway.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is also for children currently in the US who are not US citizens. SIJS applies to children who cannot safely be reunited with their parents or returned to their home country. In these cases, custody is appointed by a state court, and children can apply for permanent residency using the I-360 petition.

Lastly, there are asylum and refugee statuses. These apply to people who have a well-founded fear of prosecution because of their race, religion, nationality, social status, or political opinion. The qualifications for these statuses are as follows:

  • Asylee – currently located inside the US
  • Refugee – currently located outside the US
  • For both – persecution must come from a government or someone the government cannot control
  • For both – the person must be unable to relocate within their country or to another country

Get expert help navigating family green card sponsorship

Whether you are an international student hoping to remain in the US through family sponsorship or a citizen or lawful permanent resident wanting to help a family member migrate to the US, Fragomen can guide you through the process. Choose the best immigration pathway for your specific circumstances and have Fragomen file the required paperwork on your behalf. Talk to Fragomen to find out how they can streamline the complex US immigration process for you.