Can More Than One U.S. Family Member Petition for the Same Immigrant?

It can be worth having more than one petitioner file an I-130 on the immigrant’s behalf, in case circumstances change with the passage of time, for example a U.S. petitioner dies or loses interest in helping the immigrant.

By , J.D., University of Washington School of Law

A foreign national who has more than one close relative in the U.S. with U.S. citizenship or permanent residence status might thereby have various potential people to petition them for a family-based green card. But who should be the one?

Fortunately, you need not choose only one U.S. family member to start the immigration process (leading eventually to a green card) for you. Any or all of a person's U.S. relatives can serve as "petitioner," with the idea that if one application moves fastest, you'd drop the remaining ones.

Although initially expensive, this strategy can serve as a good backup if things don't go as planned. For example, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. petitioners became all too aware of how one untimely death could derail the immigration hopes of a family member being sponsored. We'll get into the details of using this strategy below.

(Relatedly, you might be interested to see How Much It Costs to Get a Green Card by Consular Processing and How Much It Costs to Get a Green Card by Adjustment of Status.)

Who in the U.S. Can Serve as an Immigrant's "Petitioner"?

Only a limited number of family relationships potentially qualify a foreign-born person to receive a green card to immigrate to the United States. These are described in Green Card Through a U.S. Family Member: Who Qualifies.

The U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family member who starts the process on behalf of the intending immigrant is called the "petitioner." That person must file a so-called "visa petition" on the intending immigrant's or "beneficiary's" behalf, using Form I-130, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS.

Some people call the petitioner a "sponsor." However, in legal terminology, "sponsor" actually refers to the person providing financial sponsorship to the immigrant. It's true that the petitioner must, as part of the immigration process, be the first and primary financial sponsor. However, other people in the U.S. might be additionally able to serve as an immigrant's financial sponsor, as is common when the primary sponsor's income is relatively low.

Whichever Petitioner Can Get the Immigrant a Green Card Fastest Should Definitely File an I-130

Different family relationships may lead to a U.S. green card at different rates of speed. The spouse, parent, or unmarried child of a U.S. citizen, for example, is considered an "immediate relative." No annual limits apply in the immediate relative category, so the beneficiary's application for a green card will go just as quickly as the U.S. government's bureaucracy and application requirements allow.

All other family relationships that qualify a foreign national to immigrate, however, fall into the "preference" categories, in which the law limits the numbers of immigrant visas or green cards given out each year. Due to high demand for U.S. green cards, the upper limit is often reached, potentially leading to waits of many years in each category. The worst category is sibling (brother or sister) of a U.S. citizen, in which the wait for an available visa is, on average, at least ten years, and often many more.

Therefore, it's worth figuring out which family relationship will get the foreign national a green card the fastest, and making sure that the appropriate petitioner files (if willing) an I-130 on the immigrant's behalf. You can do this by looking at the monthly Visa Bulletin published by the U.S. State Department, which lists both the preference categories and the "priority dates" (I-130 submission dates) of people who have become eligible for visas in that month.

The farther back in time the listed priority dates, the longer the wait. For example, by looking at the Visa Bulletin, you might notice that a married person with U.S. citizen parents as well as siblings will get a green card slightly faster through the parents, because category F3 is moving about a year ahead of category F4 (for applicants from most countries, that is; people from Mexico and the Philippines wait much longer than others, due to high demand from those countries).

On the other hand, you might see a "C" in some categories, meaning there's no wait at all. This has sometimes been true of category 2A in recent years (though the normal wait is between two and five years for 2As).

When More Than One Petitioner Should File I-130 for Same Immigrant

If one of the potential petitioners is the intending immigrant's immediate relative, so that the entire application process will go fairly quickly, you could simply file that one application, and assume all will go well. (You'll find out fairly soon, in any case.)

In any other situation, however, it can be well worth having more than one petitioner file an I-130 on the immigrant's behalf. Why? Because circumstances can change with the passage of time. A petitioner might die or lose interest in helping the immigrant.

If the petitioner dies before the immigrant gets the green card, some possible remedies exist, including something called "humanitarian reinstatement." There's also a law assisting surviving spouses of U.S. citizens described in Can Immigrant Still Get Green Card After U.S. Petitioner/Sponsor's Death? Nevertheless, such remedies might, depending on the facts of the situation, not work for you.

The bottom line: You have nothing to lose except the filing fee by having more than one U.S. petitioner file an I-130 on behalf of an intending immigrant, and doing so might save a great deal of time and heartache.

Getting Legal Help

If you have questions about which family members can and should petition for you to immigrate, or would like assistance preparing the paperwork and monitoring the application through the long process of approval, consult an experienced immigration attorney.

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