Can a US Citizen Sponsor a Family Member for Immigration?

Can a US Citizen Sponsor a Family Member for Immigration?

Families should stay together. Can a US Citizen Sponsor a Family Member for Immigration? Let's find out.

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IN THIS ARTICLE

Key Takeaway

It’s important for individuals in the family-sponsored immigration process to monitor the Visa Bulletin regularly and be aware of any updates or changes in visa availability for their particular category and country of chargeability. The waiting period can impact the overall timeline for family-sponsored immigrants to receive their visas and become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) in the United States.

Can a US citizen sponsor a family member?

Yes!

For a multitude of reasons, many families find themselves separated by international borders. In such a scenario, one may wonder: “Can a US citizen or a permanent resident sponsor a family member for immigration?” The answer, fortunately, is yes. A U.S. citizen or a holder of a green card, also known as a permanent resident card, can sponsor certain family members, allowing them to immigrate to the United States. This article explains the rules and the process of sponsoring an immigrant.

The Basic Premise of Family-Based Immigration

Family-based immigration, often facilitated through a family visa or a US sponsorship visa, is one of the primary avenues through which individuals can immigrate to the United States. This process begins when a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, known as the petitioner, files a petition on behalf of their foreign family member, known as the beneficiary.

Let’s get into more details of Family-Based Immigration: Family-based immigration in the United States refers to the process by which U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can sponsor certain family members to immigrate to the U.S. and obtain legal permanent resident status.

The U.S. immigration system allows citizens and green card holders to petition for certain family members to join them in the United States. There are two main categories of family-sponsored immigration. See Categories of Family-Based Immigrant Visas below for details.

The process typically involves the U.S. citizen or green card holder filing a petition on behalf of the family member with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the petition is approved, the foreign family member may apply for an immigrant visa through the National Visa Center (NVC) and attend an immigrant visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country.

It’s important to note that there are numerical limitations (quotas) on the number of family-sponsored immigrants each year, leading to waiting times for certain categories. The waiting times can vary, and some categories may have shorter processing times than others.

Eligibility Criteria for Petitioners and Beneficiaries

Not every family relationship qualifies for family-based immigration. The petitioner must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, also known as a green card holder. Moreover, the petitioner must be at least 21 years old to sponsor parents and siblings.

The beneficiaries that a U.S. citizen can sponsor include:

  1. Spouses
  2. Children (unmarried and under 21)
  3. Sons and daughters (married and/or 21 or over)
  4. Parents (if the U.S. citizen is 21 or over)
  5. Siblings (if the U.S. citizen is 21 or over)

On the other hand, green card holders can sponsor their:

  1. Spouses
  2. Unmarried children

Categories of Family-Based Immigrant Visas

Family-based immigrant visas, often referred to as family sponsored visas, can be broadly categorized into two types: Immediate Relative visas and Family Preference visas, both of which are different green card categories.

Immediate Relative Visas

These visas are set aside for close relatives of U.S. citizens, such as spouses, unmarried children under 21, or parents. There is no annual cap on the number of visas issued in this category, which means that immediate relatives, who are potential US permanent residents, do not have to wait for a visa number to become available.

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21 of U.S. citizens
  • Parents of U.S. citizens (if the citizen is at least 21 years old)

Family Preference Visas

These visas are for more distant relatives of U.S. citizens and some specific relationships with lawful permanent residents. There is an annual limit on the number of these family sponsored visas issued, which means there may be a waiting period before the visa becomes available.

  • First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children (adult, unmarried children of citizens).
  • Second Preference (F2):
    1. F2A: Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of green card holders.
    2. F2B: Unmarried adult children of green card holders.
    3. Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children.
    4. Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children (the U.S. citizen petitioner must be at least 21 years old).
Can a US Citizen Sponsor a Family Member for Immigration?

The Process of Sponsorship

To sponsor a family member for immigration to the U.S., the petitioner, who could be a US permanent resident or a green card holder, must first submit a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form, also known as a relative petition, is used to establish the qualifying relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary. Each beneficiary requires a separate Form I-130.

After USCIS approves the Form I-130, the petition is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC), which will inform the beneficiary when they can apply for a visa. The beneficiary may then apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country, a process known as consular processing.

Waiting Period for Family Preference Immigrants

The waiting period for family preference visas, a specific visa category, can vary significantly depending on the preference category and the beneficiary’s country of origin. The U.S. Department of State issues a monthly Visa Bulletin that provides the latest priority dates for each category and country.

Also, the waiting period is determined by the demand for visas in each preference category and the limits set by the U.S. government. In some categories, the demand may exceed the available visa numbers, leading to a backlog. The State Department publishes the availability of immigrant visa numbers for each preference category and country of chargeability in the same Monthly Visa Bulletin.

Here are some key points regarding the waiting period for family preference immigrants:

Priority Date: The waiting period is measured based on the priority date, which is the date USCIS receives the immigration petition filed on behalf of the family member. The priority date establishes the immigrant’s place in line for visa processing.

Visa Bulletin: The Visa Bulletin, published by the U.S. Department of State, provides information on visa availability for each preference category and country. It categorizes applicants into “current,” “oversubscribed” (backlogged), or subject to a “final action date” (waiting for visa availability). Click here to see the latest US Visa Bulletin.

Varying Waiting Times: The waiting times can vary significantly between preference categories and countries. Some categories may have a shorter waiting period, while others may experience longer backlogs.

Adjustments in Visa Availability: Visa availability can change from month to month based on factors such as demand and the overall allocation of immigrant visas.

Financial Sponsorship Obligations

In addition to the Form I-130, the petitioner, who could be a US permanent resident or a green card holder, must also submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) to demonstrate their financial ability to support the beneficiary in the U.S. The petitioner must show that their income is at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for their household size. This is one of the important supporting documents required for the process.

What is an Affidavit of Support?

An affidavit of support is a legal document in which a sponsor agrees to provide financial support to a foreign national who is seeking to immigrate to the United States. This document is often required as part of the immigration process to demonstrate that the intending immigrant will have adequate financial resources and will not become a public burden.

The affidavit of support is typically required in family-based immigration cases and employment-based cases where a family member or employer is sponsoring an immigrant. The purpose of the affidavit is to ensure that the sponsored immigrant has the financial means to meet basic living expenses and will not need to rely on government assistance programs.

Key points about the affidavit of support:

Sponsorship Responsibility: The sponsor is usually a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who is willing to take financial responsibility for the immigrant. In family-based immigration, the petitioner (the person filing the immigration petition) is often the sponsor.

Form I-864: The affidavit of support is usually submitted on Form I-864, officially known as the “Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA.” This form is a contract between the sponsor and the U.S. government, and it is legally binding.

Financial Eligibility: The sponsor must demonstrate that their income is at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for their household size. If the sponsor’s income is insufficient, they may need to use assets to meet the financial requirements.

Duration of Responsibility: The sponsor’s obligation under the affidavit of support typically continues until the sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, accumulates 40 qualifying quarters of work (usually about 10 years of work), dies, or permanently leaves the United States.

Joint Sponsorship: In some cases, if the sponsoring individual does not meet the financial requirements, a joint sponsor who does meet the requirements may submit a separate affidavit of support.

The affidavit of support is a crucial component of the immigration process, and failure to provide a satisfactory affidavit of support can lead to the denial of the immigrant visa or adjustment of status application. It helps ensure that immigrants have the means to support themselves and do not become a financial burden on the U.S. government.

Special Situations

There are special provisions for U.S. military members and their families, particularly when it comes to obtaining a green card or permanent resident card. If you or a member of your family is in the U.S. military and is a US permanent resident, you may be eligible for expedited processing or other benefits.

Hire an Attorney

Yes, an U.S. citizen or permanent resident can sponsor a family member for immigration to the United States, effectively becoming a sponsor for immigration. However, the process of sponsoring an immigrant can be complex and time-consuming. It is advisable to seek legal advice to navigate the intricacies of immigration law effectively. Call us today or send us a message for a free consultation and case review.

Last Reviewed/Updated

This article was last reviewed by N400 Harbor Immigration Law on November 1, 2023.

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