Immigration law does not only relate to bringing workers into the United States. Indeed, one of its primary functions and focuses is the reunification of families through the family immigration process.
Since the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in 1965, the stated policy of the American government has been using family ties are the main pathway to immigration to the United States. Today, such immigration accounts for more than six of every ten legal immigrants annually.
Immediate relatives and those in family preference categories are the only groups eligible for family-based immigration. Immediate relatives include spouses of citizens, married children of citizens under 21, orphans adopted or to be adopted by US citizens, and parents of US citizens who are at least 21 years old.
The family preference category, limited to 480,000 annually and from which the immediate relative visas will be subtracted, includes:
Citizens and LPRs cannot sponsor any unlisted family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, or cousins.
When the sponsor is in the US, the process requires an application, numerous screenings, background checks, an interview, payment of a fee, and a medical examination. The sponsoring relative, who must be 18 or sometimes 21 and reside in the US, must first file a petition for the family member with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
In the petition, the sponsor must provide the qualifying relationship and that they meet applicable income requirements. The sponsor must also submit a signed affidavit of support stating that they will be financially responsible for the sponsored relative. In addition to previously mentioned requirements, the USCIS examines the application to determine whether the immigrant will likely become a charge on the public purse.
Once the USCIS approves the application, they send it to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC directs the applicant to complete additional forms, submit additional documents, and pay all required fees. After NVC receives all of these required items, a US embassy or consulate officer interviews the applicants to determine eligibility. All applicants must also undergo a medical exam performed by an authorized physician and obtain any necessary vaccinations before the government issues a visa.
The time varies greatly depending upon the relationship between the sponsor and the applicant. Generally, spouses and minor children receive their green cards soon after completing their requirements. Of course, in this context, “soon” is a relative concept, and even a spouse or child visa can take many months to issue. Other family members can wait for years and even decades for their green cards. For this reason, there are severe backlogs in most of the family preference categories.
Although family-based immigration is the policy of the US government, it is neither an easy nor a quick process. Those desiring to sponsor a family member will do well to work with a family immigration attorney in Addison to assist with meeting rather technical requirements and avoiding problems. If you believe that you may need such assistance, contact us or call 312-427-6163 for assistance in reunifying your family.