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Is there a path to permanent residence for my relatives?

If you are a citizen of the United States, you may be able to help your relatives gain permanent residence. A citizen of the U.S. can petition for a spouse or their children to apply for permanent residency. If you are unmarried, and over 21 years of age, you may also petition for your parents or siblings.

The first step is to file a petition (form I-130) for your relative. You must include proof of your relationship with the person. A separate form must be completed for each relative. Once the petition has been received by Immigration Services and approved, your relative is categorized and placed in line with other relative applicants from the same country and relative-status. The petition is placed at the back of the line for their category; petitions are worked in the order received. There are exceptions to this waiting period for the following family members: spouses, parents and children under 21. These family members do not have to wait in line, but are immediately processed.

When the petition reaches the front of the line or meets one of the family exceptions above, background checks are performed and admission requirements evaluated. If approved, you and your relative are notified that they are now eligible to apply for a visa. The resident can now file the permanent residency petition, which is form I-485. When a relative is eligible to file for permanent residency, their immediate family members -- spouse and children under the age of 21 -- can join them in filing for permanent residency also. There is a $165 fee involved with filing for permanent residency and must be paid by each relative. There will also be a waiting period depending on the number of immigrants waiting on legal entry to the U.S.

What you should know: If you petition for a relative's permanent residency status, you also become their financial sponsor. When the relative's immigration time arrives, you must file an Affidavit of Support. If you are unable to qualify as the financial sponsor, another individual can make this commitment.

The process of legalizing immigrants can be complicated at times and all forms must be completed correctly and accurately. There are also many different types of visas that can be applied for. An inaccurate form will be sent back and prolong the process. Legal assistance from an immigration attorney is recommended.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "I am a U.S. citizen: How do I help my relative become a U.S. permanent resident?," accessed Dec. 31, 2015

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