If you are a citizen or legal permanent resident who married someone who isn’t a citizen or permanent resident, your spouse will have to apply for a visa or a green card in order to join you in the United States.
Luckily, the process to bring your spouse and relatives to join you in the United States is relatively straightforward.
For those of you who are already a U.S. citizen, this process is usually pretty quick and will only take up to a year for your family members to receive their visas or green cards. The process does take longer for permanent residents, and unfortunately their spouse and relatives are not guaranteed visas or green cards.
How Can I Bring My Spouse and Family to the USA?
To bring your family to the United States you will need to file an I-130, Petition For Alien Relative. This form allows for spouses, children and relatives to legally immigrate to the US.
When applying for an immigrant visa for your relatives, it is important to recognize that there are two different categories that the U.S. government will use to classify your family members. These two categories are immediate relative and family preference immigrants, and they will determine the length of the process for obtaining a visa or green card.
The members of your family who fit the immediate relative criteria “have special immigration priority and there is always a visa available for them” (USCIS).
To be considered an immediate relative, the applicant must be your spouse or child. For children, the applicant must be under the age of 21 and they cannot be married.
The special immigration priority of those who fit the immediate relative criteria is that of preferred immigrant status. This status allows for their immigration application to be processed quicker and offers a guaranteed visa instead of having to wait for the visa lottery (Diversity Immigrant Visa Program) like other visa applicants.
Family Preference Immigrants
The family preference immigrants category is for those in your family who are not considered immediate relatives. It also includes married children and adult children who are 21 or older.
USCIS designates non-immediate relatives in the following four categories:
- First preference (F1) – Unmarried sons and daughters, 21 years of age and older, of U.S. citizens
- Second preference (F2A) – spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents
- Second preference (F2B) – unmarried sons and daughters, 21 years of age and older, of lawful permanent residents
- Third preference (F3) – Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
- Fourth preference (F4) – brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age and older)
Unlike the petition for the immediate relative, visas are not guaranteed for family preference immigrants. Therefore, your relative will have to wait until a visa can be obtained and this will take a substantial amount of time.
Before starting the application process for your spouse and or family members, it is highly recommended that you get your finances in order. You will be considered the financial sponsor for your spouse and relatives as they immigrate to the USA, so their visa depends on your financial situation.
As you are applying for your immediate family to immigrate to the U.S., you will have to fill out form I-864, Affidavit of Sponsorship. This affidavit states that you are the financial sponsor for your spouse and children and that you are able to adequately provide for their needs without the assistance from the U.S. government.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Visa for My Spouse and Family Members?
Spouses and family members who are considered to be in the immediate relative category usually obtain their visas within 5-12 months of submitting their applications.
Those in the family preference category will experience a longer wait as it can take anywhere from 6 months to 6 years to obtain their visas. Therefore, it is best to start the application process as soon as possible.
Can My Spouse Join Me in the U.S. While We Wait on Visa Decision?
For those who are citizens, once they have filed form I-130 their spouse can apply for a nonimmigrant K-3 visa . This visa will allow for a non-citizen to join their spouse in the U.S. while they wait for a decision on their visa. If you are a permanent resident, your spouse is not able to apply for a K-3 visa and will not be able to join you in the U.S. until they have received their visa or green card.
Green Card Application for Spouse
For those who do not wish to obtain a visa, both citizens and permanent residents can apply for their spouses to obtain green cards. The process is similar to that of obtaining a visa. You will have to fill out an I-130 form, but you will also have to fill out form I-485 which simply adjusts the status from a visa application to that of a permanent residence.
How Long Will it Take for My Spouse to Obtain a Green Card?
The length of time it takes to obtain a green card for your spouse depends on your citizenship status as well as where you are currently living. Generally speaking, the following time tables apply:
- For US citizens who reside in the US — 10 to 13 months
- For US citizens who live abroad — 11 to 17 months
- For green card holders who live in the US — 29 to 38 months
- For green card holders who live abroad — 23 to 32 months
Due to the lengthy wait times that are seen with obtaining a green card for a spouse, it is extremely important for applicants to begin the application as soon as possible. In so doing, the sooner an application is started the sooner an applicant may receive a green card.
Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.