How Naturalizing Will Help Your Foreign-Born Children Immigrate

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U.S. immigration law treats the children of U.S. citizens differently – in fact, better – than the children of permanent residents. This is because varying numbers of immigrant visas are available each year, depending on whether you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and whether your child is a minor (under 21), an unmarried adult, or a married adult. (For purposes of this discussion, an immigrant visa is the equivalent of a green card.)

If you are a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder) who wants to bring your foreign-born child to the U.S. to live, this article can help you to navigate this confusing territory. Then you can determine whether and how you can speed up the process of sponsoring your child for a visa if you become a U.S. citizen.

Make Sure Your Child Isn’t Already a U.S. Citizen

When researching options to bring your foreign-born children to the U.S., you should first determine whether your child already has “automatic” U.S. citizenship. Because U.S. nationality law has changed frequently over the years, many foreign-born children with U.S. citizen parents or grandparents may be eligible to apply for a U.S. passport and not even know it. To learn more, see “U.S. Citizenship Through Birth or Through Parents.”

Determine Whether You Can Apply For a Visa for Your Child

If your child is not already an “automatic” U.S. citizen, you will need to determine whether you can sponsor him or her for an immigrant visa and how long you can expect to wait. Here is a chart detailing the possibilities:

Is a Visa Available for Your Child?

You are a…

 

Your foreign-born child is under 21

Your foreign-born child is over 21 and unmarried

Your foreign-born child is married

U.S. citizen

A visa is available immediately

A visa is available after a long wait

A visa is available, with a long wait

U.S. permanent resident

A visa is available after a short wait

A visa is available after a long wait

No visa is available

As you can see, visa availability and length of wait times differ greatly depending on whether you, as the child's petitioner or sponsor, are a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Keep reading on for more information about your options.

Your Minor Permanent Resident Child Can Derive Citizenship When You Naturalize

If you and your minor children in your custody are all green card holders already, and you are eligible to “naturalize,” you can all become U.S. citizens at the same time. By naturalizing while your children are still under age 18, your children “derive” U.S. citizenship through your application. If they don’t meet the criteria for derivation, your green-card holding children will need to wait until they become adults and are eligible to submit their own applications for U.S. citizenship.

For more on submitting form N-400 Application for Naturalization with USCIS, visit “Application Process for U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization.”

Delays in Visa Availability for Minor Children of U.S. Permanent Residents

Regardless of what visa category your child will be in, the process starts the same way: You will need to file Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). What happens after that, however, may vary. Because the law treats the minor children (under 21) of U.S. citizens as “immediate relatives,” an immigrant visa or green card will be available to them with no waiting other than for application processing.

But if you are a U.S. permanent resident and your foreign-born minor children do not already have green cards, you can expect to wait in line for their green cards to become available. (If you are applying for U.S. permanent residence from abroad or adjusting status, your spouse and children under age 21 are “derivative beneficiaries,” who can submit their applications to accompany you at the same time.)

The minor children of permanent residents are not considered immediate relatives, but are in category “2A” of the visa preference system. Only a limited number of visas are available in category 2A, and many more people apply each year than there are visas available.

To see which visas USCIS is currently processing, view the U.S. State Department’s Visa Bulletin online. Go to the “family-sponsored” section of the bulletin and locate row “F2A.” Next, find your child’s country column. The date listed there is the priority date for the visa applications that USCIS is working on that month. It’s based on the date that USCIS first received your Form I-130. Although this date does change frequently (and is updated once a month), the wait in category F2A is usually two years or more.

Delays in Visas for Unmarried Adult Children of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

Both U.S. citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their unmarried adult children (21 years and older) for visas, which will eventually lead to green cards. However, adult children do not qualify as “immediate relatives,” but face an annual limit on numbers of visas. This means the wait can be extremely long, even if you, as their petitioner or sponsor, naturalize and become a U.S. citizen.

The visa waitlist for the adult children of U.S. citizens is usually but not always slightly shorter than for adult children of permanent residents. This depends on your child’s native country and how many people apply for the available visas in your category, but expect to wait around five to ten years for an available visa. If you are a permanent resident and your adult child marries while you are waiting for your petition to be processed, he or she will no longer be eligible for a visa.

Check the Visa Bulletin to get an idea of how long your wait could be. The row marked “F1” is for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens and “F2B” is for the unmarried adult children of U.S. permanent residents.

Permanent Residents Cannot Sponsor Married Adult Children for Visas

The third “family-sponsored” visa preference is for the married children of U.S. citizens (even if they are under age 21). There is no identical sponsorship preference for married children of permanent residents. There are extremely limited available married-children visas for U.S. citizen sponsors and none available for the married children of permanent residents. On the Visa Bulletin, the row marked “F3” is for married children of U.S. citizens.

If you are a permanent resident seeking a green card for your married child, you will either need to naturalize first or your married child will need to find another route to permanent residence (such as an employer-sponsored visa or “winning” one in the diversity visa lottery).

Naturalizing Can Speed Up the Process

If you are a permanent resident who is eligible to naturalize, doing so may be a good option in order to shorten your child’s wait for a green card (or to bring a married child to the United States). If you’ve had your green card for five years (or qualify for an exception allowing you to apply early), you may be eligible to naturalize. For more on these eligibility factors, see “Who Can Apply For U.S. Citizenship.”

What Happens If You Have Already Filed Your I-130 Visa Petition

Unless you want to apply for a visa for your married child, you do not need to wait to become a U.S. citizen to file your I-130 visa petition. File your child’s petition as soon as you can. If you become a U.S. citizen before your child’s priority date becomes current, you can then advise USCIS and obtain a new preference category and priority date.

Ninety days before the fifth anniversary of your permanent residence, you may file your N-400. (For guidance on this, visit “Filling Out USCIS Form N-400;” and see the “USCIS Early Filing Calculator” for help figuring out the exact date.)

If, after you've successfully become a U.S. citizen, you are still waiting for your child’s visa to be processed, send the National Visa Center a letter stating that you have naturalized. If you are petitioning for your minor child, state that the child is no longer subject to the yearly cap. If you are petitioning for your unmarried adult child, you should request a change in the child's preference category, from F2B to F1. Along with your letter, make sure to include a copy of your I-130 receipt notice (Form I-797C, Notice of Action) and a copy of your naturalization certificate.

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