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Applying for Relatives

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed July 2022

When you are a US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident (green card holder), you can apply for certain family members to get US citizenship. This process differs depending on if your family member is already in the United States with a different type of legal status (visa, TPS, DACA, etc.) or if your family member is living in another country.

Who can I apply for?

If you are a US citizen, you can petition for:

  • Your spouse,
  • Your unmarried child under 21,
  • Your unmarried child older than 21,
  • Your married son or daughter of any age,
  • Your brother or sister (if you are 21 or older),
  • Your mother or father (if you are 21 or older).

If you are a legal permanent resident, you can petition for:

  • Your spouse,
  • Your unmarried children under 21 years,
  • Your unmarried son or daughter older than 21.

How do I apply for family members living in another country?

This is a two step process.  The first step is to file a petition with US Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Once this is approved, the case will be sent to the National Visa Center of the State Department. You and the family member will complete additional applications with the National Visa Center and the family member will be interviewed in the U.S. consulate or embassy closest to where they live. 

How do I apply for family members who are already in the United States?

Some of your family members may already be living in the United States because they already have a form of legal status, like Temporary Protected Status (TPS), U Nonimmigrant Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or any type of visa.

If you are a U.S. citizen applying for an immediate family member (parent, spouse or unmarried child under 21) you need to file the Petition for an Alien Relative (form 1-130) as well as an application for Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (form I-485).

If you are a U.S. citizen filing for a non-immediate family member (married children, children over the age of 21, and siblings), you only need to file the I-130. You will file the I-485 at a later date.

If you are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) filing for family members, you will file the I-130 Petition first and file the I-485 at a later date.

If you are applying for your spouse, you will also have to do an interview with an immigration official to make sure you are in a marriage of “good faith”, meaning you intend to have a life together and are not just marrying for immigration benefits. See examples of proofs below.

You will need to provide proof of your immigration status and proof of your relationship with your family member, for any of these petitions.

When it is time to file the I-485 for your family member, you will also need to a I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, and an affidavit of support. When you file for a family member you have to show that you, or someone else - a joint sponsor - can financially support them. This information will be provided in the affidavit of support. See more instructions on affidavits of support below and see detailed instructions about these applications on USCIS website.

What if my family member is already living in the United States but without any legal status?

If you want to petition for a family member who is in the US already but does not have any legal status, consult a lawyer.

Some of your family members may be living in the United States and have no immigration status. If your family member does not have immigration status, or did not have status at one time, you should consult with an immigration expert to see if you are able to apply for them. They may need to apply for a waiver, or special permission, in order to have you petition for them.

How long does this process take overall?

The entire process can take anywhere from a year to over a decade and depends on a number of factors.  The quickest case is for a US citizen applying for a parent, a spouse or a child (unmarried and under the age of 21).  The slowest is for a US citizen seeking to bring in a brother or sister, or for adult children.  Case times depend on whether the applicant is a US citizen or legal permanent resident, the nature of the relationship and whether children who are over 21 are married or not. Some countries also have longer waits than others. See this Visa Bulletin for up-to-date information.

How much does this cost?

If you are applying for an overseas family member you will have to pay $535 for the I-130.  After a form I-130 is approved, the National Visa Center imposes two fees:  $120 for the so-called Affidavit of Support and $325 for the visa application.

If you are applying for a family member who is already in the US, you will have to pay the $535 for the I-130. You also have to pay for the I-485, but this cost depends on your age. If you are between 14-78 years old, you have to pay $1225 for the I-485. If you are 79 or older, you only have to pay $1140. USCIS changes fees frequently, check the website for the most up-to-date information.

I don’t make much money.  Can any of these fees be waived?

No. While certain other immigration fees can be waived, the I-130 and I-485 cannot, nor can either of the NVC fees.

What documents do I need to start the process with Immigration?

As discussed above, you will need to file an I-130 petition and possibly an I-485 petition, depending on whether your relative is in the U.S. You will need proof of your immigration status, plus proof of the family relationship including original or certified birth certificates, or marriage certificates.  Any document that is not in English must be translated into English by a competent translator.

If you are applying for a spouse, immigration requires more proof of the relationship to show that you got married in “good faith” and not just for immigration benefits. Some examples of proof include:

  • A copy of your marriage certificate;
  • If you or your spouse were previously married, copies of your divorce certificate;
  • A passport style photo of you and your spouse, which can be taken at local drug stores or the post office;
  • Documents showing you own property together(ex. a copy of your mortgage) OR documents showing you live together (ex. a lease, bills in both of your names, or a letter from your landlord);
  • Birth certificates of your children born of the relationship;
  • Affidavits of friends, family members, pastors, or any one else who can attest that your relationship is in good faith. These affidavits should have the name, address, birthday and place of birth of the person making the sworn affidavit, and be signed and, if possible, notarized;
  • Any other relevant documents to prove it is an ongoing and real relationship, like photographs of important events, or messages or emails sent between you and your spouse.

Some of these proofs can be hard to obtain due to financial situations, such as leases, life insurance and bank account statements. If your spouse is also overseas, these proofs can be difficult to provide as well, but immigration should review any proof that you provide and you can explain if there are financial or other reasons why you don’t have certain proofs.

I have an approved I-130 petition for my family member in the US. What do I do next?

If you are a US citizen and your family member is an immediate relative, spouse, parent, or child under 21, you should have filed an I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. You will receive further instructions on additional information that immigration may need or a notice for an interview with immigration.

I have an approved I-130 petition for my overseas family member. What do I do next?

You (or your lawyer if you have one) should receive mail or email notification from the National Visa Center that the case has been transferred from Immigration to the NVC.  You or your lawyer should then receive two bills from the NVC.  One will be for $120 for Affidavit of Support processing and the other will be for $325 for Immigrant Visa processing.  You need to follow the directions for mailing in the fees or paying electronically.

What happens after I pay the fees?

Once you have paid the fees, the NVC will send you an acknowledgement of payment and instructions for the remaining steps.  You must then:

  • Submit the visa application form (Form DS-260, which can only be done electronically.)  Please note that Form DS-260 requires an extensive amount of detailed information concerning the immigrant’s family, education and work experience.  All of this information needs to be gathered before you start working on the form.
  • Submit the Affidavit of Support form (Form I-864), which requires submission of the most current year’s federal income tax return and proof of income.  Please see below for a more thorough explanation of the Affidavit of Support.
  • The information will be submitted through an online website.

Upload photocopies of relevant supporting documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, military records, unexpired passports, court and prison records or police clearance letters. Your relative may need to bring originals to their interview.

What happens after all of the information is successfully submitted to the National Visa Center?

You as the petitioner and the overseas applicant should receive an email or letter from the NVC stating that all documentation necessary to complete the NVC’s processing of the case has been received.  The NVC will then arrange with the appropriate US Consulate or Embassy for a scheduled interview. Your family member will probably need to take additional steps as instructed by the consulate or embassy, such as getting a medical exam.

What is the Affidavit of Support?

The Affidavit of Support, also known as Form I-864, must be filed for all immigrant visa beneficiaries.  Essentially, it is a contract between the signer/sponsor and the federal government that if the immigrant in the future receives cash assistance, the signer/sponsor will be responsible for reimbursing the government because he or she failed to provide a sufficient level of financial support to the immigrant.  Note, however, that this does not apply to health insurance or food stamps.

The Affidavit of Support requires a sponsor to have family income of at least 125% of the federal Poverty Guidelines.  The Guidelines are graduated according to family size.  For example, a family of four must have an income of at least $30,312 for the Affidavit of Support to be accepted.

What happens if my family income is too low for the Affidavit of Support to be accepted?

In that case, even though the petitioning relative must still file an Affidavit of Support, another person, known as a Joint Sponsor, who does have the required income, must be found.  The Joint Sponsor must either be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.  That person will sign the Affidavit of Support and must provide proof of legal status and income, including the most current year’s income tax return, W-2 and employment letter.


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