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Helping family members enter the U.S.

There are multiple ways that U.S. citizens or residents can bring family members into the United States.

As a nation, the United States came to be essentially through immigration. Today as the world seems to become smaller and nations more connected in large part due to increased travel, immigration remains active and important in North Carolina. When families are separated with some people living in the U.S. and others living in other countries, the strain can be great. For this reason, many people wish to bring their foreign relatives to the U.S. to join them.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services outlines the various ways that this can be done. The process and rules are different based upon whether the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

If the petitioner is a U.S. citizen

People with U.S. citizenship can get immediate visa numbers for their immediate relatives. This includes spouses, parents and any non-married children 20 years of age and younger.

Relatives that do not fall in this category can still be granted entry into the country under what is called the family preference category. Unlike the visas for immediate relatives, there are a limited number of these visas available and there may be a wait period before one becomes available. Siblings, non-married children 21 years of age or older and married children regardless of age are considered non-immediate relatives.

If the petitioner is a permanent resident

Permanent residents can request immigrant status for their spouses and non-married sons and daughters regardless of age under the family preference category. As with the above, the limited number of visas available can result in a delay in receiving this approval.

Forms to be used

For most requests, a form I-130 is required to begin the process. This is called the Petition for Alien Relative. If a person wishes to obtain immigrant status for more than one relative, a separate form must be submitted for each family member.

If the foreign relative is in another country at the time that the petition is made, the Department of State will be responsible for issuing the immigrant visa. This can happen after the I-130 has been approved and once a visa is available. There is no stated timeframe for this.

If the foreign relative is already in the United States, a form I-485 must be completed in addition to the I-130. The form I-485 is the Application to Register as a Permanent Resident or Adjust Status.

Special circumstances may apply

The above guidelines outline the basic process for getting legal entry and residency in the U.S. of foreign relatives. However, there can often be unique circumstances that require additional steps or expertise. Engaged people, widows or widowers of U.S. citizens in other countries, children of foreign diplomats in the U.S. are examples of these.

Because of the many exceptions and importance of bringing families together, it is always recommended that people seek help from an immigration attorney with these requests.