A family immigration lawyer can bring your loved ones together in the United States.
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Bringing a family member to the United States or obtaining a Green Card for a loved one can be intimidating. Whether you are applying for a Visa, a Green Card, or Citizenship; the immigration process is tedious and requires great attention to detail. Immigration applications often require multiple steps and include many complicated forms. Further, the process can take several years from start to finish.
It is critical to avoid mistakes when submitting an immigration application. Unfortunately, even the smallest mistake can delay the process, or worse – get your immigration application denied. For example, you may wish to apply for a conditional green card or to become a conditional permanent resident. Or, maybe you are seeking a fiancé visa. In each case, the immigration application process is long and complicated. And if your application is denied, you will have spent a lot of time only to find yourself back at the very beginning.
Here at Kitay Law Offices, we understand how sensitive and important this time is for you and your family. An experienced family immigration lawyer can help walk you through this process. We will make sure that your application is complete and has the best chance of being approved.
Can a family immigration lawyer explain the difference between a family petition, a green card application, and a naturalization application?
To begin, several different types of petitions and applications exist in the family immigration process. Filing the correct documentation is critical to your success. An experienced family immigration attorney will ensure the correct documents are filed based on the facts of your case. Importantly, here are a few of the most important types of forms in the family immigration process:
A family petition is the first step in the green card application process. It proves that you and your family member are related, whether through birth or marriage. When your family petition is approved, your relative is granted a family visa. This visa does not, by itself, allow them to travel to the United States. Instead, it allows them to move on to the next step – the green card application.
Green Card Application
A green card application is the second step in the process. Importantly, it leads to an immigration status called Lawful Permanent Residence. The phrase “green card” is often used in reference to this status because, traditionally, the ID cards given to Lawful Permanent Residents were green in color!
This status allows immigrants to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. Although your green card needs to be renewed periodically, your status as a Lawful Permanent Resident – or LPR – never expires (although it can be revoked under certain circumstances).
As one example, you may be wondering which documents are needed to apply for a green card through marriage. The short answer is that you must first start with the Family Petition. Once you succeed in that process, you can apply for your green card to become a Lawful Permanent Resident. An experienced family immigration lawyer can help navigate this process with you.
A naturalization application is the process through which a Lawful Permanent Resident becomes a U.S. Citizen. Once you become a U.S. Citizen, you gain the same rights as every other Citizen of the United States. Further, it does not matter whether you were born in the United States or not. As a U.S. Citizen, you gain the following important rights:
- Voting in elections
- Applying for a United States Passport
- Unrestricted travel in an out of the United States
- Protection from deportation
Who can submit a family petition?
Only U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (a.k.a., someone with a green card) can submit a family-based immigration petition. This petition is the first step for the Beneficiary (a.k.a., the immigrant) toward getting their own Green Card and eventually, Citizenship. To start this process, consult with an experienced family immigration lawyer at Kitay Law Offices. Contact us online or call 888-KITAYLAW.
For which relatives can I file a family immigration petition?
Importantly, the relatives for whom you can petition depend on your own immigration status. A United States Citizen may petition for their:
- Children, regardless of age or marital status
- Parents, if the U.S. Citizen is older than 21 years old
- Siblings, if the U.S. Citizen is older than 21 years old
On the other hand, a Lawful Permanent Resident may petition for their:
- Children who are not married
Does a family immigration lawyer know whether all family members are treated the same by the United States government?
An experienced family immigration attorney will be able to explain how different types of family members are treated differently under United States immigration laws. Typically, the law treats you differently depending on:
- Whether the Petitioner (the person submitting the petition) has a Green Card or is a U.S. Citizen; and
- Based on the Petitioner’s family relation to the Beneficiary (the immigrant).
Generally, family immigration petitions are broken up into two broad categories:
- Immediate Relatives of United States Citizens
- Family Preference Relatives
Each of these categories has its own requirements and benefits. Therefore, contact an experienced family immigration lawyer for a full explanation. For some additional information right now, keep reading.
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens include:
- Spouses (same or opposite sex)
- Children who are under 21 years old AND not married
- Parents, if the U.S. Citizen is older than 21 years old
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens receive certain benefits that other immigrants do not. Notably, the law does not limit the number of these petitions that may be granted each year. Therefore, Immediate Relatives do not have to wait for their petition any longer than it takes for the government to review and approve it. As a result, the wait time is usually about 9-12 months. So, are you asking yourself, “Why is my green card taking so long?” Importantly, you may have nothing to worry about if you are still within that typical 9-12 month window.
Additionally, Immediate Relatives who are present in the United States may be able to submit their green card applications at the same time that the Petitioner submits their family petition. This can be a great benefit, making their entire process much shorter.
Family Preference Relatives
This part can get very tricky, so make sure to consult with an experienced family immigration lawyer. Family Preference Relatives are divided into five groups:
- F1 – Children of U.S. Citizens who are over 21 years old AND not married
- F2A – Spouses of Lawful Permanent Residents and children of Lawful Permanent Residents who are under 21 years old AND not married
- F2B – Children of Lawful Permanent Residents who are over 21 years old AND not married
- F3 – Children of U.S. Citizens who are married
- F4 – Siblings of U.S. Citizens
Importantly, Family Preference Relatives are subject to yearly quotas. This means that the government will only approve a limited number of these petitions each year. Typically, there are often more applicants than there are available visas. As a result, the wait times for Family Preference Relatives are often very long. In some cases, the wait can be more than 10 years.
Does this situation apply to you and you are asking yourself, “Why is my green card taking so long?” Contact an experienced family immigration lawyer at Kitay Law Offices for help. Call 888-KITAYLAW or contact us online.
Why is my Green Card taking so long?
If you are asking, “Why is my green card taking so long?” you are likely at the stage in the immigration process where you have filed a family petition and you are waiting for a family visa. Again, your wait time likely depends on whether you are petitioning for an “Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen” or a “Family Preference Relative.” For an Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen, the wait time for a family visa is usually between 9-12 months.
On the other hand, the answer is more complicated for a Family Preference Relative. If you are asking, “Why is my green card taking so long?” it is likely that your case falls into this category. Typically, your wait time will depend on: (1) which of the five Family Preference Groups your relative falls into; and (2) which country they are from.
Think of Family Preference Visas like lines at the DMV. For example, if you are at the DMV to register your car, you will be assigned to Window A and your wait time may be 15 minutes. However, if you are there to renew your license and get a new photo, you will be assigned to Window B and your wait time may be three hours.
Family Preference Visa wait times operate in a similar way. For example, if you are 25 years old, from China, and the son of a green card holder, your wait time may only be five years. However, if you are the sibling of a U.S. citizen from Mexico, your wait time may be 22 years. The U.S. government updates the wait times for Family Preference Visas every month. Importantly, an experienced family immigration attorney will be able to determine approximately how long your relative’s wait in the immigration line will be.
Can a family immigration lawyer shorten the wait time?
The answer here is both “yes” and “no.” Unfortunately, there is no way to expedite or rush a decision on a family petition. It does not matter whether your family member is an Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen or a Family Preference Relative.
However, in certain circumstances they MIGHT be able to switch to a shorter line. For example, if you have a green card and have filed a petition for your spouse, but you become a U.S. Citizen while their petition is still under review, you can ask the government to “upgrade” their petition. This means that your spouse will now be an Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen and will not be subject to the same wait times as before.
An experienced family immigration lawyer can review your family’s particular circumstances to determine the quickest process for your relative. Contact Kitay Law Offices online or at 888-KITAYLAW today!
What else should I know about Green Card wait times?
Just like a change in circumstances could make your relative’s wait time shorter, it could also make it longer. For example, let’s say you are a U.S. Citizen and submit an application for your child. But, maybe they get married before it is approved. If this happens, they will automatically be moved to the line for married children. Importantly, this is a much longer line than the one for unmarried children. Generally, the difference in wait times for these two categories is about 6 years. Therefore, it is critical to speak with an experienced family immigration lawyer before you or your relative make any substantial life changes to make sure that they do not impact your petition.
Additionally, the death of the Petitioner can complicate – or even end – the family petition process. Again, an experienced family immigration attorney will be able to help your family through an already difficult time to ensure that they are aware of their rights and responsibilities as intended immigrants to the United States.
What do I do after my family petition is approved?
Once your family petition is approved, it is time for your loved one to begin the process of applying for Lawful Permanent Residence, commonly known as a “green card.”
How to apply for a Green Card
How an immigrant applies for a green card depends on where they live. If they already live in the United States, they will go through a process called Adjustment of Status through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – the same branch of the government that reviews the family petitions. If they live abroad, they will apply for their green card through the National Visa Center and the Department of State at the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
What are the requirements to get a Green Card?
The most basic requirements for getting a green card are:
- An approved family petition; and
- A sponsor who can ensure that your relative will not rely on the U.S. government for financial support.
However, there are several factors which could prevent your loved one from getting a green card even if they do meet these two basic requirements. Some of these factors are:
- Certain immigration violations, such as entering the United States unlawfully, living in the United States unlawfully for more than 6 months, or working in the United States without permission
- Previous deportation from the U.S.
- Certain criminal convictions
- Any previous drug or substance abuse
- Affiliations with certain political or paramilitary organizations
- Certain communicable diseases
- Any fraud or misrepresentation committed for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit, such as marrying a U.S. Citizen for the sole purpose of getting a green card
These are only some of the circumstances that will make your relative ineligible for a green card. It is critical that you speak with an experienced family immigration lawyer to determine whether or not your relative will qualify.
I think my relative may be disqualified. Can a family immigration lawyer help?
Yes. Some of the factors listed above can be overcome by asking the U.S. government for a Waiver. However, Waivers have very strict requirements and are difficult to obtain. An experienced family immigration attorney will be able to tell you if your relative meets these requirements and will help present the strongest argument possible for a Waiver.
Can a family immigration lawyer explain what a Sponsor is and what they have to do?
A Sponsor is a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident who agrees to be financially responsible for the immigrant until either: (1) they become a Citizen; or (2) they work 40 qualifying quarters (about 10 years working full time) after they immigrate to the United States. Importantly, this applies regardless of whether they become a U.S. Citizen during that time. The Sponsor enters into this agreement with the U.S. government by signing an Affidavit of Support. This is a legally binding contract in which the Sponsor promises to repay the U.S. government if the immigrant uses any government benefits during that time.
Further, a Sponsor must meet certain minimum income requirements for their household size. These income requirements change yearly and are based on the current Poverty Level. Finally, the U.S. government determines whether you meet these requirements by reviewing your paystubs, tax returns, and any assets you own.
I don’t meet the income requirements to be a Sponsor. What can a family immigration lawyer do to help?
In this situation, another U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident may be added as a Joint Sponsor. They are subject to all the same responsibilities, disclosures, and income requirements as the Principal Sponsor. In certain circumstances, your relative’s income may be added to yours to meet the requirements. An experienced family immigration lawyer can determine which of these options fits your case the best.
My relative is in the United States. Can they work while their application is being processed?
Your relative can work ONLY IF they apply (and are approved!) for an Employment Authorization Document – otherwise known as a “work permit.” Importantly, a work permit is NOT the same as a work visa. A work permit allows certain individuals already in the United States to obtain a Social Security Number and work legally while they are here for another reason. A work visa allows certain individuals to come to the United States for the specific purpose of working here.
If your relative is applying for a green card in the United States, they can submit an application for a work permit at the same time as their green card application. While the green card application can take over a year, work permits are usually approved much sooner so that your relative can support themselves while they wait.
However, work permits are not automatically granted when your relative submits a green card application. Your relative must submit a separate form, documentation, and filing fee in order to obtain one. Therefore, it is important to speak with an experienced family immigration lawyer to ensure you are following the correct procedure. For help, contact Kitay Law Offices online or at 888-KITAYLAW.
What do I do after my Green Card application is approved?
When a family-based green card is approved, it will be valid for either two or ten years. As a result, you must keep track of the time that passes to ensure you can keep it valid.
If you obtained your green card through a spouse AND you were married for less than two years at the time that your green card was approved, your status as a Lawful Permanent Resident will only be valid for two years. In the 90 days before the expiration date printed on their card, you will have to apply for Removal of Conditions. During this process, the government once again confirms that your relationship with your spouse is real and valid. After the Removal of Conditions process is complete, your green card will be valid for the full ten years.
If the above circumstance does not apply to you, your green card is valid for ten years. While your status as a Lawful Permanent Resident will not expire, your green card will need to be renewed every ten years if you want to travel abroad, work, or obtain or renew a driver’s license.
Can a family immigration lawyer tell me whether I can lose my status as a Lawful Permanent Resident?
Yes, an experienced family immigration lawyer should be able to explain the circumstances where a Lawful Permanent Resident may lose that status. Here are a couple of situations where this can happen:
Certain criminal convictions can cause you to lose your status, and therefore your right to remain in the United States. If you are convicted of a crime – even a minor one – the government can take you to Immigration Court where an Immigration Judge will determine whether or not you will be removed (a.k.a. “deported”) from the United States.
Too Much Time Outside the U.S.
Spending too much time outside of the United States can also result in loss of status. The purpose of Lawful Permanent Residency is to allow you to live in the United States on a permanent basis. If you stay abroad for more than six months at a time, the government may presume that you are no longer living in the United States. As a result, the government may seek to cancel your status.
Unlike with criminal convictions, the government does not send you a notice when you have been abroad for too long. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for someone to try to return to the U.S. after a long trip only to be turned away at the border.
Therefore, if you are planning a trip longer than six months, or you become stuck abroad due to unforeseen circumstances, an experienced family immigration attorney can help apply for permission to renter the United States without any penalties.
I have had my Green Card for many years. Why should I become a citizen?
While Lawful Permanent Residents are allowed to live and work in the United States for the rest of their lives, they do not have the same rights as U.S. Citizens. They are not allowed to vote, they must closely monitor their travel abroad, and – most importantly – they can still be deported from the United States. As a result, you should contact an experienced family immigration lawyer to learn how you can obtain the important rights that U.S. Citizens have. Applying for Citizenship is the best way to ensure your security in the United States.
How long does it take to become a United States Citizen?
If you obtained your green card through a U.S. Citizen spouse, you can apply for citizenship three years after you first received your green card. All other green card holders must wait five years before applying.
What are the requirements to become a United States Citizen?
In order to become a U.S. Citizen, a Lawful Permanent Resident MUST:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have had their green card for three or five years, depending on how they got it
- Have “good moral character,” meaning they must not have any criminal convictions within the five years before they apply for citizenship
- Be able to speak, read, and write in English
- Pass an exam that demonstrates their knowledge of U.S. history and civics
To find out whether you, or your relative, is eligible, contact an experienced family immigration lawyer.
What if my relative’s English is not good enough to apply for Citizenship?
While the government does not strictly define the level of English required to obtain citizenship, your relative does not have to have an English Degree in order to pass. They should be able to conduct their entire Naturalization Interview in English, including responding to the immigration officer’s questions and instructions. Importantly, they should also be able to read and write sentences such as, “George Washington was the first President of the United States.”
My relative is over 50 years old and just hasn’t been able to grasp English even though they have been in the U.S. for a long time. Can a family immigration lawyer help explain what to do?
Yes! Lawful Permanent Residents who are 50 or older AND who have lived in the U.S. with a green card for 20 years or longer are exempt from the language requirement. However they must still take the civics and history exam in their native language. There is also a similar exception for Lawful Permanent Residents who are 55 and older and have lived in the U.S. with a green card for 15 years or longer. Contact an experienced family immigration attorney to learn whether your relative qualifies for one of these exceptions.
How do I prepare for the history and civics exams to become a United States Citizen?
The history and civics exam consists of a set number of questions. Currently, you must answer 60% of these questions correctly in order to pass. Importantly, the government publishes the list of questions (and the answers!) from which the immigration officer will choose on the day of the exam. This list is available to the public! While your relative can purchase materials to help them study, the complete list of questions the officer will chose from is available for free on the USCIS Website.
Do the United States family immigration laws make any accommodation for people with disabilities?
Yes, individuals with disabilities may apply for exceptions or accommodations to fit their specific needs. However, additional forms and documentation are required. Further, the government may deny the exception or accommodation if they do not believe that it is absolutely necessary.
I passed the Citizenship test! Am I automatically a United States Citizen?
NO! A Lawful Permanent Resident does not become a Citizen until they attend their Oath Ceremony and swear the Oath of Allegiance. Even if you pass your test and are otherwise approved, you are still a Lawful Permanent Resident up until the moment that you take your Oath.
Importantly, this means that you are still subject to the same restrictions as all other green card holders. If you attempt to vote or claim U.S. Citizenship in any way before your Oath Ceremony, approval may be rescinded and you may not receive citizenship. Even worse, you may lose your green card altogether. As a result, ensure you work with an experienced family immigration lawyer so you don’t miss any important steps in the process.
Can a family immigration lawyer explain whether my Citizenship can ever be taken away?
While it is possible for the U.S. government to revoke an immigrant’s citizenship, it is a rare and lengthy process. Unless you obtained citizenship illegally through fraud, it is highly unlikely that your citizenship will be taken away.
I found the forms I need online. Should I hire a family immigration lawyer?
While immigration forms and their general instructions are readily available on the USCIS website, they often fail to paint the whole picture of what a strong family-based immigration petition requires. An experienced family immigration lawyer will make sure that your forms are properly filled out, that you have provided the correct evidence, and that your application is in the best shape it can be when it is sent to the government.
Additionally, a family immigration attorney can identify any red-flags or pitfalls in your case and can prepare you in advance. It is especially important to speak with an attorney if your relative has ANY criminal history or previous immigration violations. These can seriously delay – or even ruin – your application.
If you are determined to proceed on your own, make sure that you only obtain the forms from the official government website (USCIS.gov) and read all instructions carefully. You should NEVER pay to simply access a form on a website.
I found someone who is not a family immigration lawyer to help fill out the forms. Why shouldn’t I hire them, instead?
Immigration to the United States is a legal matter. While it may be common in other countries for non-attorneys to assist individuals with legal matters, this is NOT the case in the United States. In the U.S., only licensed attorneys are allowed to provide legal advice and guidance in exchange for payment. Further, licensed attorneys have received special education in U.S. law, have passed a rigorous exam, and have been deemed fit to practice law in their state.
While businesses run by non-lawyers may have good intentions and wish to help, their applications are frequently incomplete and missing critical documentation. Additionally, these business may not ensure that the clients for whom they submit the applications are actually qualified to receive the immigration benefit that they are applying for. As a result, the immigrants are often the ones who suffer by wasting precious time and money on a process that did nothing for them. So, contact an experienced family immigration lawyer at Kitay Law Offices for help! You can reach us online or by calling 888-KITAYLAW.
Legal Assistance in Spanish!
Are you looking for a family immigration attorney who can help you or your loved one in Spanish? Contact us! Our office is bilingual and we can communicate with you in Spanish throughout your entire case. ¡Se habla español!