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Filing I-130 Petitions with the Department of State May Help Certain Afghan, Ethiopian, and Ukrainian Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens Abroad

March 22, 2022
Grace Parsons

A recent policy announcement may make the immigration process a little easier for certain spouses, minor children, and parents of adult U.S. citizens who wish to come to live permanently in the United States with their U.S. citizen relatives.

In general, when a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident wants to help a relative who is physically outside the United States to obtain lawful permanent residency, the first step is filing an I-130 petition to prove that the relationship is valid, and not solely for immigration purposes. The petition is typically filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. USCIS typically takes months or years to issue decisions on I-130 petitions. When a petition filed on behalf of someone outside the United States is finally approved, USCIS sends the case to the Department of State (DOS) for further processing. In certain situations, USCIS can permit the DOS to adjudicate I-130 petitions directly, allowing for petitioners to go to DOS posts (U.S. embassies or consulates) abroad and ask for an immigration officer to adjudicate an I-130 abroad. This can allow for faster case processing to help a person complete the first step in the immigration process more quickly. After approval of the I-130 petition, the applicant must undergo additional steps, including filing a visa application, and submitting additional documents, which may take several months or longer.

USCIS allows the DOS to adjudicate I-130 petitions in exceptional circumstances or “temporary blanket authorizations” and only if the petitioner is a U.S. citizen filing for a family member in the immediate relative category. Furthermore, if a U.S. citizen petitioner has already filed a petition that is pending with USCIS, then they are NOT eligible to ask the DOS to consider a new form I-130 for the same relative; they must instead reach out to USCIS to try and requested expedited processing. Additionally, the option of filing an I-130 at a DOS consular post is intended to help U.S. citizen petitioners who are already abroad to be able to bring their family members to the United States with them more quickly. If the U.S. citizen petitioner travels abroad for the purpose of filing an I-130 with the consulate to expedite processing, DOS is likely to reject the filing.

  • Exceptional circumstances might include military emergencies, medical emergencies, threats to personal safety, adoption, or other considerations that the DOS can evaluate on a case-by-case basis to determine if they can adjudicate the relevant petition.
  • Temporary blanket authorizations are issued in response to lasting or severe instability caused by civil strife or natural disasters. The DOS also has indefinite blanket authorization to consider petitions filed by U.S. servicemembers stationed at military bases abroad. Blanket authorizations do NOT require the DOS to accept or approve an I-130, but they do allow them the discretion to decide whether or not to do so.
  • An immediate relative is a spouse of a U.S. citizen; a parent of a U.S. citizen (if the U.S. citizen son or daughter is aged 21 or older); or an unmarried, under-21-year-old child of a U.S. citizen.

The Department of State has announced that U.S. citizens abroad who wish to petition for their Afghan, Ethiopian, or Ukrainian immediate relatives may be eligible to file their I-130 petitions through this process. The DOS states that the intending immigrants must have fled Afghanistan after August 2, 2021; Ethiopia after November 1, 2020; or Ukraine after February 1, 2022. The U.S. citizen petitioner must be “physically present” outside the United States and directly affected by the “large-scale disruptive events” in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, or Ukraine. Those affected should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate that is able to process immigrant visa applications in the country they are in.

We emphasize that this is a discretionary process – even if an applicant meets the requirements, the DOS officer does not have to accept processing of the petition or to approve it. U.S. citizen petitioners abroad should consult with qualified immigration counsel before making plans to travel to an embassy or consulate. If you would like to discuss your situation, please call Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan at (312) 427-6163 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced immigration attorneys.

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