How Can Refugee or Asylee Help Family Come to the U.S.?

You have more than one option when arranging for spouse, children, and other close family to come to the U.S. after your grant of asylee or refugee status.

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If you are a refugee or asylee (aged 18 and over) living in the United States, and your close family members have not already been granted the same status as you, you may be looking for legal ways to help them come to (or stay in) in the United States. Here are three possible ways to accomplish this:

  • You could file a Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition, within two years of your admission as a refugee or asylee in the U.S. (or later, if the U.S. government excuses this deadline in your case).
  • You could file an Affidavit of Relationship within five years of your admission as a refugee or asylee in the U.S.
  • You could file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, or perhaps a Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), if and when you become a green-card holder or U.S. citizen.

This article will further explain these three options and how to best take advantage of them.

Submitting Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition for Family in U.S. or Abroad

If you have lived as a refugee or asylee in the United States for less than two years (even if you have become a green-card holder, but not if you have become a U.S. citizen), you may file Form I-730 to ask that the U.S. government allow your spouse and your unmarried children under age 21 to come join you.

If you have a very good reason for not being able to file within two years (for example, if you were very ill), the U.S. government could decide that these “humanitarian” circumstances excuse the deadline and allow you to file your petition late.

There is no limit to the number of nationalities that qualify for admission through Form I-730 every year. Moreover, to qualify for this status, your relatives would not even need to meet the main qualification for obtaining asylee or refugee status — that is, that they were persecuted in their home country.

They would instead be classified as your “derivatives.” They would, however, still need to show that they are notbarred from receiving asylee or refugee status, meaning that they do not pose a security threat and have never persecuted anyone or committed a serious crime. (If other grounds of inadmissibility, such as having a communicable disease, apply — especially to refugee derivatives — they should request a waiver.)

For more information on how to file Form I-730, see Nolo’s article, “Filling Out Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition.”

If your I-730 is approved and your relative lives abroad, he or she will need to apply for either what’s called a “Visa 92” (if you are an asylee) or a “Visa 93” (if you are a refugee) at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Submitting Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) for Overseas Refugee Family Members

If you have lived as a refugee or asylee in the United States for less than five years (whether or not you have become a green card holder or a U.S. citizen), and you come from one of the countries listed by the U.S. government, you may file an AOR to help your spouse, your unmarried children under age 21, and your parents apply for refugee status through the U.S. Refugees Admissions Program.

This is done under a special family reunification category also referred to as “Priority 3.” Other members of your previous households (whether or not they are related to you) could also qualify as family members in rare circumstances if you shared the same resources when you lived together, and if they can demonstrate “exceptional and compelling humanitarian circumstances” (for example, they are in dire need of aid).

While open to a few more categories of family members than Form I-730, Priority 3 is open to only a few nationalities, which the U.S. government specifically designates every year. (For a list of nationalities designated for the year 2014, see the “Priority Category” page of the Refugee Council USA website.) Furthermore, it requires that family members prove not only that there is no bar to their admission, but also that they were persecuted.

Also unlike Form I-730, Priority 3 may require that you and your family member (if you claim a blood relationship) obtain DNA testing. This would be paid for by you or your relative. (This fairly new requirement was added after a lot of fraud was committed by applicants to this program — so much that it had to be suspended for years.)

In any event, to gain access to Priority 3, your family member would need you to begin the process by filing an AOR with a local branch of one of the few nongovernmental agencies allowed to process the document for the U.S. State Department. (For a list of agencies, see the “National Resettlement Agencies” page of the USA for UNHCR website.)

Submitting Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative or Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) for Family in U.S. or Abroad

If you were admitted into the U.S. as a refugee or asylee but have since become a green-card holder, you may have the choice between filing a Form I-730, an AOR, or a more standard family visa petition on Form I-130 or (for fiancés) Form I-129F.

Form I-130 allows green-card holders to petition for not only their spouse and unmarried children under 21, but also their unmarried sons and daughters over age 21).

However, the I-130 process for family of green-card holders is costly and can last several years — likely longer than the processing times for either Form I-730 or AORs/Priority3. Moreover, I-130 beneficiaries are subject to a larger number of inadmissibility grounds. So, the best reason to go this route would be that the two-year deadline on Form I-730 has passed.

Similarly, if you were admitted into the U.S. as a refugee or asylee but have since become a U.S. citizen, you may have the choice between filing an AOR (if the U.S. government deems it in the “public interest” for you to do so), a Form I-130 (which allows U.S. citizens to petition for many more categories of relatives than green-card holders can, including brothers and sisters) or a Form I-129F (which allows U.S. citizens to petition for their fiancé(e), spouse, or children to come the U.S. before they apply for the green card). However, except for the issues of cost and inadmissibility mentioned in the previous paragraph, your relative would almost always have faster access to the U.S. if you filed Form I-130 (or Form I-129F, if applicable) instead of an AOR.

For more information on Forms I-130 and I-129F, read Nolo’s other articles regarding “Family Sponsors Petitioning for Immigrants.”

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