How to bring your fiancé, spouse, parent, child, or sibling to the U.S. permanently
Family-based immigration is available to parents, sons, daughters, spouses, and siblings of U.S. citizens and to spouses and certain sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents of the United States.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens include spouses, parents, and “children” of U.S. citizens. There is no numerical cap on how many people in this category can come into the country. “Children” are defined as a child born in wedlock; a stepchild (provided the child had not reached the age of 18 at the time of the marriage that created the stepchild relationship); a child born out of wedlock, with respect to the natural mother in any circumstances, and with respect to the natural father only if the father can demonstrate a bona fide parent-child relationship; a child whose relationship to his petitioning father has been legitimated under the laws of the father’s country or the country of the child’s residence by the age of 16; an adopted child, only in certain circumstances; an orphan.
The definition for “spouse” in the immigration context now extends to same-sex married couples. In all cases, to qualify as a spouse, the marriage must be legitimate in the place where it occurred, and all prior divorces must have been final before the marriage took place.
A number of other family relationships qualify for immigration benefits, but are subject to yearly numerical limitations. In other words, there is a very long wait for most of these beneficiaries, and the wait time varies depending on the category. These categories are:
- F-1: Unmarried sons and daughters (over 21) of U.S. citizens
- F-2A: Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (see definition of “children” above)
- F-2B: Unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents
- F-3: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
- F-4: Brothers and sisters of adults U.S. citizens
There is no category for parents of lawful permanent residents or married sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.
How to bring your fiancé to the U.S.
The K-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa, which allows the fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen to enter the United States for a period of up to 90 days in order to marry the U.S. citizen. Preparing a K-1 fiancé(e) visa can be one of the more difficult family-based immigration processes.
The fiancé(e) visa process requires the filing of the I-129F initial petition with USCIS followed by further processing and an interview at the consulate or embassy. However, since there is no legal relationship established between fiancés, it is therefore necessary to prove that the couple has actually met and established a relationship, and furthermore, that they intend to marry within 90 days of the foreign national entering the United States.
Once the I-129F petition is approved, the Embassy will issue a letter indicating when it is ready to process the visa application, and the foreign national must submit the required documentation directly to the consulate. If approved, the applicant will be granted a K-1 visa which will allow him or her to enter the United States and marry his or her fiancé(e) within the allotted 90 days. Once married, the couple must file the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. The children of a K-1 may enter the United States on a K-2 visa at the same time as the K-1.
Adjustment of Status
When USCIS alters the nonimmigrant status of a foreign national present in the United States to immigrant status, that process is known as adjustment of status. This process is not to be confused with “change of status,” which generally refers to changing from one nonimmigrant visa category to another, such as visitor to student to temporary worker. The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for adjustment of status.
If an intending immigrant seeks the issuance of an immigrant visa on an approved visa petition at a U.S. embassy or consulate in a foreign country, such action is called consular processing. The Department of State handles consular processing.
Adjustment of Status vs Consular Processing
Whenever a foreign national’s immigrant visa petition (I-130) is approved by USCIS, the foreign national is not automatically a permanent resident. In order to actually obtain permanent residence, the foreign national must either apply for adjustment of status or undergo consular processing. The major difference between these two options is that adjustment of status is performed in the United States by USCIS and consular processing is performed at a U.S. embassy or consulate in a foreign country by the Department of State.
Once the foreign national is either approved for adjustment of status or enters the United States after approval of an immigrant visa through consular processing, the foreign national becomes a permanent resident immigrant.