The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) permits a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident to petition for the immigration of his or her foreign relatives. In some cases, fiancés and widowers of U.S. citizens or permanent residents may also be able to immigrate to the United States. The process can be complicated and cumbersome, however.
To bring a family member to the U.S., the USCIS requires that you show that you are a relative of the person you seek to sponsor, that you are a naturalized citizen or a permanent resident of the U.S., and that you can financially support the person you seek to sponsor.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents have different options when it comes to petitioning for family-based visas. A lawful permanent resident is an individual who has been granted the right to live and work in the U.S indefinitely, but is not a citizen. Typically, a permanent resident can apply for citizenship after five years in this country. Permanent residents have to abide by certain conditions while they live in the U.S. and are subject to being deported if they engage in crimes or security violations. U.S. citizens, on the other hand, are not subject to deportation, and no specific conditions must be met in order for them to live in this country.
As a U.S. citizen, an individual can petition for the following relatives:
Unmarried children under the age of 21;
Unmarried children over the age of 21;
Married son or daughter of any age;
Siblings, if the petitioner is at least 21 years of age; and
Parents, if the petitioner is at least 21 years of age.
It is the responsibility of the petitioner to prove that the claimed relationships to the foreign nationals are not false. In the list above, a spouse, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents of U.S. citizens 21 or older are given the highest priority by the U.S. government. The rest of the categories are considered lower priorities.
Lawful permanent residents (also known as green card holders) can petition for fewer types of relatives than can U.S. citizens.
A lawful permanent resident of the U.S., meaning someone who has a green card, can petition only for a spouse or for unmarried children. Again, the petitioner must prove the relationships in order for the federal government to consider allowing the petition. Lawful permanent residents are unable to sponsor their parents, married children, or siblings for permanent residence in the U.S.
A U.S. citizen may also petition to bring over his or her fiancé from a foreign nation under a K-1 visa. The K-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa granted to a foreign-citizen fiancé of an American citizen. The fiancé can come to the U.S. for a 90-day period, during which the U.S citizen must marry the fiancé. If no marriage takes place, the fiancé must return to his or her home country.
A legal permanent resident may opt for a V visa, which allows the permanent resident’s spouse and minor children to immigrate to the U.S. while they wait for their visas to be processed. Certain requirements must be met before this can happen. The purpose of this policy is to let families stay together while their immigration status is sorted out.
It is important to remember that the types of visas mentioned above are not the only types of marriage and family-based visas available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. There are a variety of options that may be available based on each situation.