If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be wondering if it is possible for you to sponsor a relative for U.S. citizenship. The answer is yes, it is. The immigration law of the United States has established clear procedures in such cases. In this blog, we will familiarize you with those procedures.
The big picture.
In almost all cases, there is a three-step process to becoming a citizen of the United States:
- Obtain an immigrant visa (a “green card”).
- Maintain a “continuous residence” in the United States for a set period of time. For most people, that period is five years. Spouses of U.S. citizens are only required to have three years. Note: “continuous residence” does not mean the person cannot travel outside the U.S. at all in that time. If they do leave, they must return before the end of 6 months. If they don’t return in that time, their “continuous residence” clock starts over.
- Apply for citizenship, a process called “naturalization.”
The scope of family members that may be sponsored for citizenship depends on the status of the sponsor:
- Citizens of the United States may sponsor their spouse and any married or unmarried children. Additionally, if they are at least 21 years of age, citizens may sponsor their parents and siblings.
- Lawful permanent residents may only sponsor their spouse and unmarried children (of any age).
Steps to U.S. citizenship.
Step 1: The Petition
Citizens and green card holders alike use the same Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative to initiate their sponsorship of their relative’s immigration to the U.S. Each individual relative being sponsored must have their own petition filed on their behalf. It may be filed online or in paper form. The non-refundable filing fee for this form is $535.
The I-130 is an extensive form. It requires a lot of information both about you, the “Petitioner,” and your relative, the “Beneficiary.” Its purpose is to establish the nature and legitimacy of your relationship and to confirm the basic eligibility of the beneficiary to be considered for a family-based green card.
Once the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives, processes and approves this form, they will send it onward to the U.S. State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC). You will be notified by mail of this action.
What happens next depends on your circumstances. If you are a U.S. citizen petitioning for your spouse, your unmarried children under 21 years of age, or your parents, the NVC will immediately invite them to take the next step and apply for their immigrant visa.
In all other cases, the petition will be put into the queue along with other petitions for beneficiaries of a similar category. For instance, if you are a green card holder petitioning for your spouse, who is from a Western European country, their case will be placed in a waiting line of other Western European spouses of green card holders.
There is no way to predict exactly how long the wait will be. There are legal, annual limits to the number of immigrant visas that can be issued in each category, and the demand often exceeds those limits. The State Department publishes a “Visa Bulletin” on its website every month, which gives their estimated current wait times. It is advisable, however, to apply as early as possible.
Step 2: The Green Card
When the State Department notifies you accordingly, the beneficiary must next apply for their immigrant visa using Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. (Note: If your family member is already lawfully in the U.S. on a different visa, it is possible for them to file their Form I-485 concurrently with your Form I-130. We recommend you consult with an immigration attorney to learn the specifics.)
The Form I-485 form is also quite extensive. It is designed to ensure that the beneficiary will not pose a security risk to the United States. Examples of the information it requests are:
- Personal history (parents, marriage(s), children, name changes);
- Residential history;
- Employment history;
- Military service history, if any;
- U.S. travel history, especially any visas granted or denied;
- Social history (involvement in organizations or clubs);
- Criminal history, if any.
The data provided on the form must be corroborated with supporting documentation (family records, school or employment records, police records, etc).
The I-485 should also be accompanied by the petitioner’s (or their representative’s) Form I-864: Affidavit of Support, which outlines the means available to economically support the beneficiary so that they will not become dependent on public funds.
The filing fee for the I-485 depends on the age and circumstances of the one filing. USCIS includes a table on its I-485 information page that outlines those fees, which includes biometric services fees.
The entire I-485 application package must be mailed to the USCIS facility that is given on the notice inviting the beneficiary to apply for their green card. Usually, this will be the embassy or consular office in the beneficiary’s home country, though not always.
Once the application has been processed and approved, the beneficiary will be scheduled for USCIS biometric services: their fingerprints, photograph, and digital signature will be collected and used to verify their identity and criminal history.
Then comes the interview. Generally, in the case of a family-based immigration visa, the beneficiary and the petitioner are both requested to meet in person with a USCIS officer. The goal of this interview is to ensure that all the data that USCIS has on the beneficiary is up to date and completely accurate.
Once the interview is over, USCIS will notify the beneficiary within 30 days of their decision. If the immigrant visa is granted, then they may travel to the United States immediately and begin their new life there with their family.
Step 3: Naturalization
Once a permanent resident who is 18 years of age or older has reached their required period of “continuous residence” outlined above, they may begin the process of becoming a United States citizen.
This process mirrors the green card process in many ways. It begins with Form N-400: Application for Naturalization. This form asks for much of the same data as the I-485, and costs $640 to file. Once processed, the applicant must provide their biometric data unless their previous data is still available. If they do have to give their biometrics again, there will be an additional $85 biometric fee. They will then be summoned for an interview.
This interview will include questions about the applicant and tests in English proficiency and basic U.S. history and government. The purpose behind all of this is to ensure that the applicant has good moral character and will become a loyal and functional citizen of the United States. If the USCIS officials are satisfied with the results, they will invite the applicant to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States at an official naturalization ceremony. They will then be citizens of the United States.
Let’s get it done.
If you want to sponsor a family member for U.S. citizenship, our team of experienced immigration attorneys at Levin and Pangilinan PC can guide you through the whole process. We can determine if your family member meets the basic requirements for citizenship and ensure that all the paperwork is completed and submitted correctly. We help prepare each client for interviews and can provide resources that prepare applicants for the required tests. If you are looking to sponsor an applicant, we invite you to contact us today. Let our team go to work for you and your family member.