One of the reasons to become a U.S. citizen is to help bring foreign-born children to the U.S. In some cases, due to changes in immigration laws, these foreign-born children already may have citizenship through acquisition or derivation. For example, if you have a child under 18 in your custody, and both of you are green card holders, the child will automatically derive their citizenship from you. You should check the laws to make sure that your child is not already a citizen. If they are, they can apply for proof of citizenship.
If you are a citizen, your child likely can come to the U.S. more efficiently than they could if you were a green card holder. Some types of children may be able to come only if you are a citizen.
Getting a Visa for a Foreign-Born Child Under 21
If your child is under 21 and unmarried, they will not face any waiting time to apply for an immigrant visa and a green card if you are a U.S. citizen. This is because they will fall within the immediate relative category. You can still apply for an unmarried child who is under 21 as a green card holder, but they can expect a certain waiting period because the demand exceeds the supply for these visas. You can review the State Department’s Visa Bulletin to see how long your child might need to wait. This will involve checking the priority date for category F2A in the column for your child’s country of residence.
Wait times vary depending on whether an unmarried child is over or under 21 years old.
Getting a Visa for an Adult Foreign-Born Child
You can petition for a green card for an unmarried child who is 21 or older, regardless of whether you are a citizen or a green card holder. Unfortunately, the wait can be long in either of these categories, since both of them cap visas. The child may not be able to come to the U.S. for several years. You can check the F1 and F2B categories in the Visa Bulletin to see how long the waiting period might be in your child’s situation. If they get married before the application process ends, they will lose their visa eligibility.
You can petition for a green card for a married child only if you are a U.S. citizen. You can find this category at F3 in the Visa Bulletin. Green card holders do not have this opportunity. However, their child may be able to find another route to a green card, such as an employment visa or a diversity visa. Even if you are a citizen petitioning for a married child, you should be aware that they will face a long wait.
Filing the Petition for a Child
You can file Form I-130 to petition for an unmarried child before you become a U.S. citizen. If you get citizenship before the child becomes eligible to apply for a visa, you can ask USCIS to change the preference category and priority date for the child. For example, if an unmarried adult child is still waiting to apply, you can advise USCIS that you are a citizen and that your child thus is eligible to move from category F2B to category F1. If a child under 21 is waiting to apply, you can notify USCIS of your citizenship and point out that your child no longer will be subject to the cap on visas. You should provide USCIS with Form I-797C (the receipt for your I-130 petition) and your naturalization certificate.
Double check wait times before asking USCIS to change a child’s category.
In some cases, changing to a higher preference category may not help your child. The wait sometimes may be shorter in their current category. If you want to keep your child in their current category, you should ask USCIS to keep them there.