My mother is getting U.S. permanent residence and I will immigrate too – but what if I marry first?

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Question:

My mother married a U.S. lawful permanent resident (it’s her second marriage), and he has petitioned for us to come to the United States. Our priority dates should be current in about a year. I’m 19 years old, and engaged to be married. But my mother doesn’t approve of my fiancé. We’ve had a lot of arguments about it, but the bottom line, she says, is that if I marry him, I will no longer be allowed to come to the United States. I’m getting an opposite story from my fiancé: He says he’s heard that if we’re married, my mother should be able to get him a green card, too. I’m not sure whether who to believe! I don’t want to lose my chance at a U.S. green card, but I don’t want to leave my fiancé, either.

Answer:

No matter what your mother may think of your boyfriend, she’s telling you the truth about U.S. immigration law. When the child (including the stepchild) of a lawful permanent resident (in category 2A of the visa preference system) gets married, he or she loses eligibility for U.S. permanent residence. The visa petition and your priority date would essentially be canceled due to your marriage. If you became eligible for U.S. residence on some other basis, you would have to start all over, from the beginning of the process.

The situation is different for children of U.S. citizens – which may account for the information that your fiancé heard. And this could help you if your mother’s U.S. husband applies to naturalize and successfully becomes a U.S. citizen before you get your green card, so be sure to carefully read this next part.

The immigrating children of U.S. citizens who marry before getting their U.S. immigrant visa (green card) cannot immigrate to the U.S. in the same category as they started out in; but they can get in line to eventually immigrate in a different category. It is called category F3 of the visa preference system, for married children of U.S. citizens AND their spouses and children. (That’s right, you could bring your husband as your “derivative,” as well as any children you might have.) You would keep your original priority date.

There’s an even longer wait in category F3 than in your current category of 2A, however. It’s approximately ten years. So even though, by keeping your priority date, you’ll be credited for the years you have waited, you would still have several years’ wait ahead of you.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that your stepfather is nowhere near to applying for or receiving U.S. citizenship. In that case, if you marry, you would have to hope that your stepfather or eventually your mother does become a U.S. citizen and files a visa petition for you (again in category F3). But because you will have lost your original priority date, you really will have to start the whole wait all over again.

Another possibility is for you to wait to get married until you have received approval for your U.S. green card, then file for your husband to receive one -- but the wait would also be several years, as he (like you) would be in category 2A of the visa preference system. And you probably can't live in your home country during this time, or you're likely to lose your U.S. residence (having "abandoned" it).

Learn more about tracking your place in line based on your priority date, and consult with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney for a full analysis of your options.

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